Cablegate: Head of Libyan Immigration: U.S. Businessmen Are Welcome Classified
DE RUEHTRO #0100/01 0351529
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R 041529Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 5766
INFO RHEHAAA/NSC WASHINGTON DC
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RUEHTRO/AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI 6322
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TRIPOLI 000100
SIPDIS DEPARTMENT FOR NEA/MAG AND CA/VO/F/P E.O. 12958: DECL: 2/4/2020
TAGS: PREL CVIS CACS PBTS LY
SUBJECT: HEAD OF LIBYAN IMMIGRATION: U.S. BUSINESSMEN ARE WELCOME CLASSIFIED
BY: Gene A. Cretz, Ambassador, U.S. Embassy Tripoli. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d) 1.(C) Summary: In a February 2 meeting with the Ambassador, the director of the Libyan Immigration and Passports Department, Brigadier General Mohamed al Rammali, said that American businesspeople can now "easily get visas to Libya, just like the Europeans" provided that they have an invitation letter from a Libyan company. In response to the Ambassador's urging that Libya also start issuing visas to U.S. tourists, Rammali indicated that the GOL still refuses to do so because of concerns about the safety of Americans: "they are a better target for Al Qaida than the European tourists." Rammali underlined that, due to Libya's being on the list of countries whose citizens require additional TSA screening when traveling to the U.S., the ban on U.S. tourists to Libya is unlikely to be lifted soon. He noted that he will sign the PISCES agreement on behalf of the GOL as soon as the Arabic-English translations have been compared. The Ambassador also pressed Rammali on a long-standing ACS case. End summary
2.(C) Rammali, who had last met with the Embassy in 2006, commented at the outset of the meeting that it was "highly unusual" for him to meet with foreign diplomats, and that all future contact would need to take place through the MFA. In response to the Ambassador's queries, he stressed that "since November 2009, when the regulations changed, American businesspeople coming to Libya are treated just like Europeans." According to Rammali, whose department is responsible for granting visa approvals for foreigners visitors to Libya, American businesspeople simply need a letter of invitation from a Libyan company; the company then files the visa application and letter with the Libyan Immigration and Passports Department, and a visa will subsequently be granted "usually within one week." (Note: For the past year, our business contacts have complained repeatedly about the difficulties they encounter in getting U.S. businesspeople to Libya, including long delays and astronomical fees. End note). To highlight his office's work in granting visas to American businesspeople, Rammali showed the Ambassador a spreadsheet containing the names and passport numbers of 284 U.S. businesspeople to whom he had issued visas in January 2010. He said that the visa fees "are not more than the 178 dinars (equivalent to USD 140) that Libyans are charged for the U.S. visa process," and highlighted that in the past month, he had refused a visa to only one American visa applicant.
3.(C) In response to the Ambassador's pressing for an end to the apparent freeze on the issuance of Libyan visas to official USG-related travelers, Rammali noted that he is responsible for "normal" travelers only, not official ones. The Ambassador then urged that the Libyan ban on issuing visas to U.S. tourists be lifted, particularly given the fact the Embassy is now issuing dozens of visas every day to Libyan tourists. Rammali highlighted GOL concerns that American tourists will "attract terrorists" and that they "are at higher risk of getting attacked by Al Qaida when they go out in the desert than Italian or French tourists." He also opined that after the recent announcement that Libyans will be subject to additional TSA screening when traveling to the U.S., "the timing is not right for us to start issuing tourist visas ... you should be encouraging us to do so with positive measures, rather than adding us to lists where our citizens get screened." The Ambassador urged Rammali not to view the breadth of the full range of the bilateral relationship simply through the lens of TSA screening. He encouraged Rammali to advocate within the GOL for the issuance of visas to American tourists, suggesting that as a first step, Libya might issue visas for a few U.S. citizens to join a larger foreign tour group to Libya, and then subsequently build up to issuing more tourist visas. Rammali pledged to discuss the issue within the GOL, but "we need time."
4.(C) Rammali flagged that National Security Advisor Muatasim al Qadhafi has asked him to be the Libyan signatory on the PISCES agreement, which would create the framework for enhanced border security cooperation between the U.S. and Libya. Rammali said he needed to compare the Arabic and English translations of the document, and then would send it back to the Embassy through the MFA. Once we had also agreed to the text, the agreement could be signed. The Ambassador urged Rammali to move quickly on the agreement, noting that he hoped to sign it before the end of February.
5.(C) The Ambassador raised a long-standing ACS case with Rammali, urging that Mohamed Ghennewa, an American-Libyan citizen and LES Embassy employee, be allowed to depart Libya as soon as possible, in order to assist his ill wife in seeking medical care outside the country. (Note: Ghennewa was previously detained by the GOL, and upon being released from prison, was told his name is on the no-fly list, and that he was barred from leaving the country. We have continuously advocated on his behalf with a range of senior-level interlocutors. End note). Rammali said he knew of the case, and was unsure if Ghennewa was TRIPOLI 00000100 002 OF 002 still on the no-fly list, although "if he is, the Libyan government has good reasons for it." He pledged to look into it, and to give the Ambassador an answer when the PISCES agreement is signed. CRETZ