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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
05ALGIERS1836 2005-08-29 10:25:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Algiers
Cable title:  

DESPITE SOME EARLIER CONCERNS, GOA TAKING POSITIVE

Tags:   PREL PHUM AG MO WI 
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1. (C) Ambassador separately called on Minister-Delegate
Messahel and Presidential Chief of Staff Belkheir August 27
to express appreciation for Algeria's role in the Moroccan
POW release, take a temperature reading, and discuss the way
ahead. Both men expressed satisfaction over the success of
Lugar's humanitarian mission and, suggesting earlier GOA
concerns about our initial public reaction to the release had
been assuaged, welcomed the President's message thanking
President Bouteflika for having facilitated the POW release.
Messahel hoped Morocco would respond to the release with
humanitarian moves of its own; reiterated Algeria's firm
policy that it is willing to help but is not a party to the
Western Sahara dispute; and said President Bouteflika would
shortly be sending a letter to President Bush. Both
Messahel and Belkheir repeated Algerian arguments that in
rejecting the Baker Plan, Morocco had missed an opportunity
to secure an outcome to the Western Sahara dispute that met
Morocco's needs. Both men also reaffirmed Algeria's interest
in pursuing improved relations with Morocco and expected
Belkheir's appointment as ambassador to Rabat would help
improve communication between Morocco and Algeria. Neither,
however, expected much could happen until after Algeria's
national reconciliation referendum in late September or
Belkheir's arrival in Rabat sometime in mid-to late October.
(End Summary and Comment)

U.S. APPRECIATION FOR GOA FACILITATION OF POW RELEASE


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2. (C) Ambassador separately called on Presidential Chief of
Staff Belkheir and Minister-Delegate Messahel August 27 to
review the situation and possible next steps in the wake of
the successful Lugar Mission. Deliberately seeking to set a
positive tone for the discussion, Ambassador congratulated
Algeria for its role in helping ensure the success of Senator
Lugar's humanitarian mission. Algeria had given the Senator
an exceptionally warm welcome and had delivered just what it
had promised -- Polisario's unconditional release of all
remaining Moroccan prisoners. The President's letter of
thanks reflected his personal appreciation for the helpful
role President Bouteflika had played in ensuring this
positive outcome. The POW release was an important
humanitarian achievement. Everyone won in such a situation
and, as the President had written in his letter, we hoped
both Algeria and Morocco would seize the opportunity that has
been created to work for improved relations and a regional
environment conducive to a Western Sahara
settlement.

PRESIDENT'S LETTER ASSUAGES EARLIER DISAPPOINTMENT


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3. (C) Both Belkheir and Messahel agreed the Lugar Mission
was a success, removing an issue that had become a burden and
paving the way for a hopefully more positive dynamic in the
region. Belkheir was especially satisfied that the quiet
discussions with the Ambassador over the past five months had
finally borne fruit. Messahel hoped Morocco could address
humanitarian concerns such as the missing Polisario fighters,
the recent incarceration of 37 Sahrawi demonstrators, and
cooperation on family visits and other confidence-building
measures. Ambassador said we had been particularly active in
encouraging Moroccan cooperation on the latter and wanted to
see progress on all humanitarian issues. Both Messahel and
Belkheir also positively noted the President's letter, while
notably avoiding comment on initial U.S. public reaction to
the POW release, which Messahel in a previous conversation
had termed "a disaster". (Comment: The President's letter
thanking Bouteflika appears to have substantially assuaged
earlier disappointment. The importance of the letter for the
leadership here was reflected in the fact that the text was
published almost verbatim in the government-owned press and
received wide coverage in the independent press as well.)

BOUTEFLIKA SENDING PRESIDENT A LETTER


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4. (C) Messahel, without providing any details, said that
Bouteflika would shortly be sending a letter to President
Bush. Messahel commented that Senator Lugar had left a very
positive impression, while noting that the Senator's comments
in Morocco suggesting that Algeria and Morocco should
directly negotiate an end to the Western Sahara dispute had
perhaps unintentionally gone beyond what Algeria understood
to be U.S. policy. Ambassador said we knew Algeria's
sensitivity on this point and thus were careful to refer to
the need for Algeria and Morocco to improve relations and
create a regional climate conducive to a Western Sahara
settlement. Messahel reiterated that Algeria was not a party
to the dispute. However, as it had in the elaboration of the
Baker Plan, Algeria would of course be prepared to help the
parties find a political solution, within the framework of
the United Nations, that honored the principle of
self-determination.

REJECTING BAKER PLAN A "MISSED OPPORTUNITY"


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5. (C) As in previous discussions, Messahel and Belkheir
separately expressed regret that Morocco had rejected the
Baker Plan, describing its "autonomy option" and referendum
voting procedures as a "missed opportunity" that would have
enabled Morocco to secure the outcome it needed. Ambassador
said we needed to move beyond the Baker Plan, since one side
had clearly rejected it, while perhaps drawing on ideas in
the Plan that might offer a way forward. Messahel commented
that the "lack of a real interlocutor" on the Moroccan side
was a problem for Algeria. Morocco needed to realize that
its current course of unilaterally declaring Moroccan
sovereignty over the Western Sahara -- at a time when no
other country in the world accepted the legitimacy of this
claim -- would not work.

RESOLVING THE WESTERN SAHARA
A STRATEGIC ISSUE FOR MOROCCO


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6. (C) The Western Sahara was a strategic issue for Morocco,
but not for Algeria, Messahel continued. He suggested that
some in Morocco saw the Western Sahara issue as a way of
diverting public attention from problems and rallying the
public around the king and national unity. In fact, however,
the dispute was a drain, diverting energies and resources
that were needed to address economic, social, Islamic, and
terrorism challenges within the country. The solution to the
Western Sahara conflict did not rest with Algeria, but with
Morocco itself, he contended. Sooner or later, Morocco would
have to understand that legitimacy could only be achieved
through a process of self-determination. The Baker Plan had
offered such a process, one that would have worked in
Morocco's favor while honoring the idea of
self-determination. Algeria had been very consistent in its
position, he claimed, and needed to be patient and prepared
for the Moroccans to come to this conclusion. In a now
familiar refrain, he argued that Hassan II had reached this
conclusion toward the end of his life, as a result of Baker's
efforts, and that there would have been a solution by now,
had Hassan II lived.

ALGERIA SEEKS IMPROVED RELATIONS WITH RABAT


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7. (C) Messahel said Algeria agreed on the desirability of
working to improve relations with Morocco. In this regard,
Algeria had viewed Prime Minister Ouyahia's planned June
visit to Rabat, which the Moroccans canceled abruptly, as
part of a process that would have re-energized the bilateral
commission process, led to a series of ministerial visits,
and culminated with a Bouteflika visit in December and the
reopening of the border. He discounted the idea that the
visit had been canceled because of Moroccan disappointment
over the insufficiently "political" composition of the
Algerian delegation. Algeria had specifically proposed, and
the Moroccans had accepted, that to give more impetus to the
bilateral commission process, it would be upgraded from the
level of foreign ministers to that of prime ministers. This
was consistent with how Algeria handled bilateral commissions
with Tunisia and Libya. The Moroccans knew all along that
Foreign Minister Bedjaoui was not on the delegation.
Messahel claimed that from the outset, it had been determined
that the Interior, Energy, and Commerce Ministers plus
himself would be the ministerial component of the Algerian
delegation.

BUT NO NEW INITIATIVES ANYTIME SOON


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8. (C) Asked about next steps, both Belkheir and Messahel
agreed that the POW release, the naming of van Walsum as the
Secretary General's Personal Representative for the Western

SIPDIS
Sahara, and Belkheir's appointment to Rabat as ambassador
were all positive elements. Both confirmed there were no
current plans for a van Walsum visit, though they expected
there would be a visit at some point. In any case, they
doubted much could happen in coming weeks because Algeria was
entirely absorbed by the campaign to win substantial approval
of President Bouteflika's Charter for Peace and National
Reconciliation in the September 29 referendum. Other than
saying it would be important to resume the work of the
bilateral commissions, Belkheir avoided answering a direct
question as to what it would take to get a meeting between
the two Prime Ministers and their delegations rescheduled. He
also reconfirmed that he had accepted the Ambassadorial
posting in Rabat, despite press articles to the contrary, and
would probably leave for Rabat in October. His first
priority would be to try to establish better communication at
senior levels, especially in the King's immediate circle. He
also looked forward to close contact with Ambassador Riley.

AMBASSADOR AGREES COMMUNICATION
A SERIOUS PROBLEM FOR BOTH SIDES


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9. (C) Ambassador agreed that communication has been a
serious problem for both sides. He added that Belkheir, by
virtue of his experience, access, and ability to speak with
authority, would hopefully be able to improve communication
and help both sides avoid the kind of miscues that have
plagued their relationship. Belkheir agreed, noting by way
of example that if only the King had called Bouteflika in
advance about the 2004 Moroccan decision to lift the visa
requirement, it would have been received positively.
Ambassador said both sides needed to be more sensitive to the
needs of the other and to communicate informally and at high
level before taking any public steps. This would help ensure
they were properly received and understood. He added that
Algeria had made a "serious error" in not responding more
concretely to the King's significant gesture of attending the
Arab League Summit in Algiers last March. Algeria's
perceived lack of response had thus needlessly angered and
undercut those in the Moroccan leadership who sought
rapprochement with Algeria. Similarly, better communication
signaling Algeria's serious interest in moving toward a
reopening of the border might have averted Rabat's abrupt
cancellation of the Ouyahia visit.
ERDMAN