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05ALGIERS1591 2005-08-01 17:50:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Algiers
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1. (C) Ambassador was the first official caller on newly
appointed MFA Secretary General Ramdane Lamamra July 31.
Lamamra, a former Ambassador to Washington from 1996-99 and
to the UN from 1993-96, was recalled from Lisbon last week to
replace a colleague (former Secretary General Hocine
Meghlaoui) who reportedly had clashed with Foreign Minister
Bedjaoui. This message reports Ambassador and Lamamra's
discussion of U.S.-Algerian relations, the development of
bilateral military ties including the need for a SOFA,
Western Sahara, and Lamamra's request for assistance in
locating and returning the remains of the two Algerian
diplomats murdered by Al-Qaida in Iraq. Reftel reports their
discussion of the upcoming emergency Arab Summit in Egypt.
Lamamra came across as both well-connected to his own
leadership and well-disposed toward the U.S. He will be an
excellent and authoritative interlocutor. End Summary.

U.S.-Algerian Relations


2. (C) Ambassador, accompanied by DCM, called on newly
appointed MFA Secretary General Lamamra, who returned from
Lisbon last week to assume his new responsibilities but was
only officially installed late July 30. Ambassador
congratulated Lamamra on his new assignment, extended
condolences over the assassination of two Algerian diplomats
in Baghdad, and noted that bilateral relations had developed
considerably since Lamamra's posting to Washington. Lamamra
said the U.S. Ambassador was his first official caller,
describing this as especially "fitting." Lamamra said he had
accompanied Bouteflika on his November 2001 visit to
Washington and meeting with President Bush, and had already
felt the change at that time. Ambassador commented that U.S.
relations with Algeria were developing across the board, with
one indication being the surge in the number of official USG
visitors to Algeria in the past two years. Lamamra
encouraged more Americans to visit Algeria, including
journalists. In the 1990s, American journalists had a
mistaken understanding of the nature of the terrorist
violence in Algeria, but now he thought they were more ready
to comprehend that Algeria had been an early battlefield in
the "global struggle" against terror.

3. (C) Ambassador observed that the development of relations
extended to trade and investment, as Algeria recognized the
need to move beyond the French umbrella and into a global
economy. Lamamra said that need had long been recognized in
Algeria, but was only now being put into action. He cited $7
billion in Algerian exports to the U.S. in 2004, but added
there was still a need for greater diversification beyond
hydrocarbons. Ambassador commented that more U.S. firms had
participated in this year's Algiers trade fair than ever, and
a great number of them were non-hydrocarbon companies looking
to establish themselves in Algeria as a regional base for
manufacturing. Lamamra said he had been involved with
then-U.S. Ambassador Hume in an attempt to bring American
fast food franchises such as McDonald's to Algeria, but at
the time it had not worked. Now, the Algerian private sector
was ready to work with companies such as McDonald's.
Ambassador said we should revisit this idea. Lamamra agreed,
saying he wanted to see visible "symbols of America" in
downtown Algiers.

4. (C) Ambassador offered his analysis that the convergence
in U.S.-Algerian interests since 2001 involved not just a
common struggle against terrorism after 9/11 but also a
shared vision of the future, based on Algeria's movement
toward democracy and open markets, that had never existed
before. Lamamra commented that energy companies did not need
the assistance of diplomats to do business, but other sectors
of the economy could benefit from the Embassy's help. He
mentioned in this regard his discussions as Algeria's
Washington ambassador with Vice President Cheney when he
visited Algeria as a private businessman.

Bilateral Military Ties and a SOFA


5. (C) Ambassador said that U.S.-Algerian military to
military ties were developing rapidly. The U.S. European
Command was working with the Algerian military to counter the
threat of GSPC terrorism in the vast Sahelian region. As
part of this effort, we had recently held the first joint
exercise in Algeria of our special forces. Raising the need
for a SOFA, Ambassador said the U.S. participation in this
exercise had been very small, but if we were to move forward
with this kind of cooperation, which was clearly in our
mutual interest and which the Algerian military was eager to
do, we would need to conclude a SOFA. The need for a SOFA
had been raised in Washington with General Senhadji during
the Joint Military Dialogue and again in Algiers with Foreign
Minister Bedjaoui, who had reacted positively to the idea of
hosting a team of U.S. experts who could discuss what a SOFA
entailed and address any concerns. We have SOFAs with
roughly 150 countries. They are entirely routine and
essentially accord immunities similar to those granted to
Embassy administrative and technical staff.

6. (C) Ambassador added that State has proposed sending a
team to Algiers September 20-21 to discuss any issues
involving concluding a SOFA. Ambassador urged a response as
soon as possible. Lamamra asked if he understood correctly
that the team would be coming to discuss a SOFA, not
necessarily to negotiate a final text. Ambassador confirmed
that was correct, noting that Bedjaoui had said there were
some issues that might require changes in Algerian domestic
legislation. The team would include people who had conducted
SOFA negotiations in a number of countries. Noting that this
was a new issue for him, Lamamra asked whether the U.S. had
secured the full cooperation of the Algerian military on this
issue. Was there now an official military to military
dialogue? Ambassador responded that had been the purpose of
the Joint Military Dialogue, which now provided a formal
mechanism for high-level military dialogue.

7. (C) Lamamra noted there had been some military to
military exchanges in the 1980s, recalling that Richard
Armitage had led such a team to Algiers when Armitage had
been Under Secretary of Defense. Ambassador assured Lamamra
that we now have numerous regular visits. EUCOM is very
interested in Algeria and has a strategic vision in which
Algeria plays an important part. The recent GSPC attack in
Mauritania had had a positive effect in terms of promoting
regional cooperation among the Sahelian states as well.
Lamamra said he would discuss these issues, including a SOFA,
with General Senhadji. He added that in terms of agreeing on
the visit of the SOFA team, it would be helpful if we could
get him the names and titles of the team members.

Western Sahara and POW Release


8. (C) Turning to the Western Sahara, Lamamra commented that
Algeria was pleased to see the appointment of the new UNSYG
Personal Representative, von Welsum. Lamamra hoped the
appointment would provide badly needed momentum. Lamamra
observed that Polisario leader Abdelaziz had announced his
willingness to release the remaining Moroccan POWs. To the
Ambassador's comment that this was a humanitarian issue and
that continuing to hold the Moroccans was harmful to both
Polisario and Algeria, Lamamra replied that this was an
independent Sahrawi decision. Algeria respected the
independence of Polisario decision-making, but would continue
to offer the Polisario its advice based on humanitarian
concerns. Lamamra added that the Moroccan security services
were arresting Sahrawis for merely calling for a referendum.
U.S. advice to Morocco to respect human rights would also be
appreciated, he said. The situation in the Western Sahara
needed to be deescalated. Ambassador assured Lamamra that we
were raising this issue in Rabat as well.

Help Algeria Retrieve Remains of Diplomats in Baghdad



9. (C) Lamamra said that over the weekend, he had
accompanied Foreign Minister Bedjaoui on his condolence calls
on the families of the two Algerian diplomats who were
kidnapped and murdered in Iraq. The principal request of the
families was that the bodies be returned. Lamamra requested
that we inform the GOA if the U.S. had any information about
the location of their remains. Returning the remains to
their families for burial would help build Algerian popular
support for fighting terrorism in Iraq as well as at home.


10. (C) Lamamra, who speaks excellent English, strikes us as
someone who will prove to be an especially valuable and
authoritative interlocutor. Unlike his predecessor, he is
personally close to President Bouteflika as well as to both
Foreign Minister Bedjaoui and Prime Minister Ouyahia. He is
also clearly well-disposed to the United States and
understands our system and views. Lamamra will be an
excellent interlocutor for senior officials in Washington as
well, and we will strongly encourage him to pay an early
visit to the U.S. in order to help advance a direct,
high-level bilateral engagement.