Cablegate: Codel Gregg Discusses Algeria, Western Sahara,


DE RUEHRB #0063/01 0321655
P 011655Z FEB 10




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) Summary: CODEL Gregg held a wide-ranging
discussion with the Prime Minister on January 5. Prime
Minister El Fassi addressed Moroccan relations with Algeria,
stating that Algeria wanted to maintain the status quo on
Western Sahara. The Prime Minister emphasized progress on
the Israeli-Palestinian peace process as a key to improving
U.S.-Moroccan relations, and Morocco's role as a model of
tolerant Islam. He also discussed human rights, the role of
women in Moroccan politics, and microfinance. End Summary.

2. (U) During the CODEL's visit to Morocco from January 5 to
7, Senators Judd Gregg, Evan Bayh, Arlen Specter, Michael
Enzi, John Cornyn and Amy Klobuchar met with Prime Minister
Abbas El Fassi on January 5. The Ambassador accompanied the
Senators, and the Prime Minister was accompanied by his
Secretary General, Mohammed Hajoui.

Relations with Algeria

3. (SBU) In response to a question about the situation in
Algeria, El Fassi called Algeria a centralized state run by
the army despite the fact that "its people want to govern
themselves." It was the army that wanted to maintain the
status quo on the Western Sahara because prolonging the
conflict benefited the army and kept it in power, he opined.
By contrast, the Western Sahara issue is "sacred" for all
Moroccans -- not just the Government. El Fassi expressed a
desire for better relations with Algeria, especially for
opening the border between the two countries. The Arab
Maghreb Union would be much stronger with open borders;
furthermore, the Maghreb region would be stronger in lobbying
Europe if it presented a united front rather than each state
going to Europe individually, said the Prime Minister.

Middle East

4. (SBU) In response to questions about fostering better
Moroccan-American understanding, El Fassi emphasized the
importance of progress on the Israeli-Palestinian peace
process (MEPP). He lamented the "genocide" against
Palestinians and "violations" of their human rights, as well
as the "silence of superpowers" on the issue. "Verbal
protests" against Israeli settlements are not enough, he
added, and "we are waiting for President Obama's steps to
reinforce peace." These criticisms notwithstanding, El Fassi
reiterated Morocco's support for the MEPP and reminded the
delegation that Morocco was an example of tolerance and
coexistence that reflects universal values. Morocco's
version of Islam, he concluded, "combats violence, respects
human and women's rights, and promotes justice."

Democracy and Development

5. (U) El Fassi also underscored Moroccan projects for
democracy, modernization and reform, noting in particular the
King's efforts to increase women's participation in politics.
Morocco required a 12 percent quota of women on all parties'
electoral lists in the local council elections last June, he
explained, and as a result women won 13 percent of the seats,
compared less than one half of one percent representation
after the 2003 elections. He expressed his government's
desire to continue on this path towards more elected women.
On human rights, he highlighted Morocco's Consultative
Council for Human Rights, made up of scholars and political
party members from the majority and opposition. The
government also issued a law making torture a crime and
compensating those who were victims of torture during the
"Years of Lead" under the late King Hassan II. He also
discussed the government's respect for freedom of the press
in Morocco.

6. (U) On the economic development side, El Fassi addressed
rural development and pointed to projects to build airports,
seaports and highways. The Government was building 2,000
kilometers per year of roads in rural areas, he added.
Comparing unemployment in Morocco to Algeria, he drew
attention to the fact that Morocco in 2008 had a 5.6 percent
GDP growth rate while Algeria only had a two percent GDP
growth rate in the same year. In response to a question on
microfinance, the Prime Minister explained that Morocco was
trying hard to fight poverty and represented a model in the
region in this respect. Microfinance loans -- under USD

6,000 ) mostly benefit poor women in rural areas who are
under 35 years old. He stated that approximately 500,000
people had already benefited from this type of loan.

7. (SBU) Comment: El Fassi's focus on Algeria reflects both
Morocco's national obsession with its neighbor and the
dismally low point to which relations between the two
countries have sunk over the past several months. Regarding
the MEPP, he painted a much harsher picture of Israel than
did Foreign Minister Taieb Fassi Fihri in his meeting with
the CODEL (septel) -- reflecting his more populist view and
the fact that he spends much less time working directly on
the issue. End Comment.

8. (U) CODEL Gregg cleared this message.

Visit Embassy Rabat's Classified Website; cco

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