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05ALGIERS2048 2005-10-04 17:28:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Algiers
Cable title:  

MFA SECRETARY GENERAL SKEPTICAL ABOUT IMPROVING

Tags:   PREL PBTS MO AG UN 
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1. (C) MFA Secretary General Lamamra, in the context of
Ambassador's delivery of the President's September 30 letter
urging improved Moroccan-Algerian relations, showed little
flexibility vis a vis Morocco, reinforcing our impression
that the Algerian leadership has given up hope of any
near-term progress with Morocco, is hunkering down for the
long run, and believes little can change until Morocco alters
its policies. Lamamra argued that Morocco was responsible
for current problems, having rejected the Baker Plan,
self-determination, and a referendum; disregarded UNSC
resolutions on the Western Sahara; and blocked increased
regional cooperation by declining to attend summit meetings
in Algiers during Algeria's presidency of the Arab Maghreb
Union. Lamamra said Algeria had done its part to improve
relations with Morocco by facilitating the August prisoner
release by the Polisario, agreeing to send PM Ouyahia to
Rabat, and sending to Rabat as ambassador presidential Chief
of Staff Belkheir, a key senior figure close to Bouteflika
known to favor improved bilateral relations.



2. (C) Ambassador repeatedly stressed our hope that both
sides would work for better communication and improved
relations in a constructive and open spirit; urged acceptance
of Moroccan FM Benaissa's invitation to FM Bedjaoui to visit
Rabat; and cautioned that declining an invitation to dialogue
-- which was always Algeria's advice to us and others when
there were important differences -- would cast Algeria as the
obstacle to improved relations. Arguing at first that the
problem was not communication but what the two sides would
have to say to each other, Lamamra in the end stopped short
of saying the Moroccan invitation would be rejected,
suggesting instead that a decision would await Belkheir's
arrival in Rabat and subsequent recommendation. (End Summary)

PRESIDENT'S MESSAGE DELIVERED


--------------------------





3. (C) Ambassador, accompanied by PolEc Chief, delivered to
MFA Secretary General Lamamra October 3 the text of President
Bush's message to President Bouteflika urging renewed efforts
to improve Moroccan-Algerian relations. Allowing Lamamra
time to read the message, Ambassador explained that the
President's basic message was our hope that both sides would
build on the August POW release, to improve relations and
create a better regional climate conducive to settlement of
the Western Sahara issue. Lamamra responded that while it
was for President Bouteflika to respond to President Bush, he
could say that Algeria hoped for deepened bilateral relations
with the United States, improved relations with Morocco, and
increased regional cooperation. He agreed with the
Ambassador's comment that in many ways, the Moroccan and
Algerian people -- who shared a common culture, ethnicity,
religion, dialect, music, cuisine, and history -- were ahead
of their governments.

MOROCCO'S BEHAVIOR MAKES PROGRESS ON
BILATERAL AND REGIONAL ISSUES MORE DIFFICULT


--------------------------





4. (C) On the personal level, Lamamra said, the two peoples
traded, visited, or vacationed in each other's country. He
himself enjoyed good personal relations with FM Benaissa from
their days together as ambassadors in Washington, where their
daughters attended the same school, were close friends, and
slept over at each other's houses. The problem was at the
official level, where Morocco pursued policies that prevented
cooperation. While Algeria wished to keep the Western Sahara
issue out of the bilateral context, as a practical matter,
Morocco's unhelpful attitudes and behavior, such as the
abrupt cancellation of the Prime Minister's planned visit to
Rabat in June, inevitably created an atmosphere which made
progress on other bilateral and regional issues more
difficult. Lamamra also noted in passing, clearly referring
to Morocco's stepped up criticisms following the August POW
release, that Morocco had not exactly responded positively
with a gesture of its own.

MOROCCO'S TO BLAME


--------------------------





5. (C) Lamamra briefly recounted Algeria's version of
developments in Moroccan-Algerian relations since Morocco's
occupation of the Western Sahara in 1975, predictably and
inaccurately placing all the blame on Morocco. He noted that
relations had been broken off following Morocco's move into
the Western Sahara in 1975; that presidential Chief of Staff
Belkheir had helped negotiate the restoration of diplomatic
ties between the two countries in 1988; that Morocco had
accepted the principle of self-determination and agreed to a
referendum; that Morocco blocked progress toward greater
regional cooperation in the mid-1990s by refusing to attend
Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) meetings during Algeria's presidency
of that organization; and that it was Morocco that had
rejected Baker, self-determination, and a referendum. More
recently, Morocco had abruptly canceled Prime Minister
Ouyahia's visit to Rabat in June, setting back efforts to
move the bilateral process forward. It was also unfortunate,
Lamamra added, that Morocco always wanted to discuss a
solution to the Western Sahara dispute with Algeria, since
the issues requiring discussion were not between Morocco and
Algeria but between Morocco and the Polisario.

ALGERIA HAS MADE NUMEROUS GESTURES, LAMAMRA ARGUES


--------------------------



--------------------------





6. (C) By contrast, Lamamra claimed that Algeria consistently
supported UN Security Resolutions and the principle of
self-determination for the Sahrawi people -- a right that
Algerians had demanded for themselves at the time of their
independence and could hardly deny the Sahrawis. Algeria had
also supported the Baker Plan. Moreover, it had demonstrated
its good intentions and readiness to move forward by: 1)
lifting Algeria's visa requirement following Mohammed VI's
visit for the Arab League Summit in March; 2) agreeing to PM
Ouyahia's visit to Rabat to discuss the way forward in
bilateral relations (i.e., toward the reopening of the
borders); 3) facilitating Polisario's release of the 404
Moroccan prisoners in August; and 4) naming Belkheir, a top
official close to President Bouteflika known as an advocate
of Moroccan-Algerian cooperation, as ambassador to Rabat.
Lamamra also commented that UNSYG Kofi Anan's appointment of
Personal Envoy Van Walsum and Special Envoy Bastagli was a
positive development and that Algeria looked forward to
working with them during their visits to the region.

LAMAMRA COOL ON FOREIGN MINISTER
ACCEPTING FM BENAISSA'S INVITATION


--------------------------





7. (C) Ambassador said we welcomed the positive steps Algeria
had taken and agreed that sending Belkheir to Rabat as
ambassador could help improve communication. We believed the
current impasse between Morocco and Algeria helped no one and
it was in both sides' interest to build on the prisoner
release to improve relations and establish better
communication. The latter was a serious problem, Ambassador
said, and could only be fixed through increased dialogue. In
this regard, Ambassador asked about FM Benaissa's recent
invitation to FM Bedjaoui to come to Rabat, noting the
usefulness of high level dialogue in getting things back on
track. Lamamra claimed there was not a problem of
communication. The problem was Morocco's backtracking from
previous positions and its efforts to unilaterally impose
Moroccan sovereignty on the Western Sahara. What was
important was not just a dialogue but what would be said in a
dialogue. Until Morocco adjusted its behavior and attitudes,
it was difficult to see what could be achieved by accepting
the Benaissa invitation.

AMBASSADOR PUSHES BACK


--------------------------





8. (C) Ambassador vigorously disagreed, arguing that both
sides in fact repeatedly misread one another. For example,
the King's well-intended announcement in August 2004 lifting
the visa requirement was poorly received because the GOA had
not been notified in advance and was thus suspicious.
Lamamra countered that Benaissa had been in Algiers the week
before and had said nothing about this move, thus proving
that it was in fact "a political move." Ambassador said he
understood the King had personally taken this decision
without consulting his advisers and thus it was very likely
Benaissa himself had not been aware. Another example of
miscommunication was the King's sudden cancellation of the
Ouyahia visit because Algerian intentions to use that visit
to move concretely toward a reopening of the border were not
sufficiently understood in Rabat.


9. (C) Improved dialogue and communication would help avoid
such misunderstandings. We understood there were important
differences over the Western Sahara, Ambassador suggested,
but the two sides should set them aside, let them be dealt
with in a UN framework, and seek improved relations and
dialogue that would create a regional climate more conducive
to a Western Sahara settlement. Returning to Morocco's
invitation to FM Bedjaoui, Ambassador cautioned that rightly
or wrongly, declining an invitation to dialogue -- which was
always Algeria's advice to us and others when there were
differences -- would give the impression that Algeria, not
Morocco, was the obstacle to improved relations. Taking the
point and clearly keeping open the option of accepting the
invitation, Lamamra said that before taking a decision they
would wait for Belkheir to be on the ground and make a
recommendation.





ERDMAN