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05ALGIERS2289 2005-11-14 13:27:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Algiers
Cable title:  

FAREWELL LUNCH WITH BELKHEIR ON EVE OF HIS TAKING

Tags:   PREL PGOV MO AG WI 
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1. (C) Over a one-on-one lunch November 6, Ambassador and
departing presidential Chief of Staff Belkheir discussed the
latter's November 9 departure to Rabat as Algeria' new
ambassador, the challenges that awaited, and the personal
factors that made him well-suited for the difficult task of
building better communication and trust between Morocco and
Algeria. Belkheir emphatically argued that Algeria had no
territorial claims on the Western Sahara, that Morocco's
rejection of the Baker Plan was a missed opportunity, and
that Algeria's goal was not an independence outcome but
respect for the principle of self-determination.
Underscoring the need for both realism and flexibility from
all sides, Ambassador encouraged Belkheir and Algeria to
focus on autonomy for the Western Sahara -- the only area
where there was some common ground on this contentious issue
-- and how it could be achieved in a way that honored the
principle of self-determination. Belkheir was strongly
critical of Iranian President Ahmadinejad's call for "wiping
Israel off the map" and said there should be full Syrian
cooperation with the Mehlis investigation of the Hariri
assassination, even if the trail led to close family members
of Bashar Asad. On bilateral issues, Belkheir expressed
satisfaction with the continuing expansion of U.S.-Algerian
cooperation and noted that he had discussed the Blue Lantern
problem (since resolved in principle) directly with President
Bouteflika following his last conversation with the
Ambassador.



2. (C) With Belkheir's departure, Embassy Algiers has lost a
major interlocutor. The latter has provided an immediately
accessible, discreet channel to President Bouteflika;
collaborated with us on sensitive issues ranging from
military cooperation to the POW release (where the President
did not want the MFA involved); and served as a channel for
very frank discussion of problematic Algerian behavior on
certain issues. Given Belkheir's unique attributes (his role
in inviting Bouteflika to return to Algeria in 1999 to run
for the presidency, his reputation as one of the top power
brokers in the country, and his connections across the
bureaucracy and military), it is expected that the next
presidential chief of staff will be a far less influential
figure. (End Summary and Comment)

CURRENT BILATERAL CLIMATE
WITH MOROCCO IS "VERY DIFFICULT"


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





3. (C) Belkheir said he was departing for Rabat November 9 to
take up his new duties as ambassador to Morocco. He said the
Moroccan Deputy Interior Minister al-Himma had called him the
previous day to finalize arrangements for his arrival and
brief him on the King's speech commemorating the Green March.
Noting the current bilateral climate was "very difficult,"
he said somewhat wistfully that he had hesitated a great deal
before accepting President Bouteflika's request but had
accepted out of a sense of duty and in response to
Bouteflika's strong urging. Ambassador said Belkheir had an
important task before him: creating better communication,
building confidence between the two governments, and creating
a regional climate more conducive to resolution of the
Western Sahara issue. The current impasse and tensions
served no one's interest and only diverted attention and
energies away from cooperation on issues of common concern --
terrorism, drug networks, clandestine immigration, and
greater regional economic cooperation. If anyone could
improve communication between the two countries, Ambassador
commented, it was he (Belkheir). His personal connections to
the royal family, his long involvement in Moroccan-Algerian
relations, and his longstanding personal commitment to
improved ties suited him well for the task before him.

"UNCLE" BELKHEIR'S PERSONAL TIES
TO MOHAMMED VI MAY BE A POSITIVE FACTOR


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





4. (C) Belkheir repeated that the situation was very
difficult. The Moroccan press was stirring things up. The
King's last-minute cancellation of PM Ouyahia's visit was
seen as a very grave insult by Bouteflika and others in the
leadership, and would be difficult to overcome. The absence
of any positive response to the Polisario's release of the
remaining Moroccan POWS was also disappointing. Nonetheless,
he readily agreed, recalling his and Ambassador's
collaboration in crafting and realizing this humanitarian
initiative, facilitating the release had been the right thing
to do and had lifted a burden for Algeria. Ambassador
commented that while we still hoped both sides could find a
way to engage in a cycle of reciprocal positive steps, one
could never go wrong in taking a humanitarian step that
reduced human suffering. Despite these negatives, in seeking
to promote better communication and trust, Belkheir remained
hopeful that his good personal relations with Hassan II and
Mohammed VI would be a positive factor. In this regard, he
recalled that during one of their many meetings, Hassan II
had called the future Mohammed VI into the room and
introduced Belkheir as "your friend and your uncle."

SELF-DETERMINATION IS ALGERIA'S
OBJECTIVE, NOT WESTERN SAHARA INDEPENDENCE


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





5. (C) Ambassador said one of Belkheir's challenges would be
to convince the Moroccan leadership that Algeria, whatever
might have been the case in the past, now genuinely saw the
stability of Morocco and the throne as a vital Algerian
interest. This was important because some senior Moroccans
even today feared Algeria's real goal in the Western Sahara
was setting up an ostensibly independent Polisario state
dependent on Algeria. Belkheir emphatically stated that
Algeria's objective was not independence, but ensuring
respect for the Sahrawis' right to self-determination. As in
the past, he argued that Morocco's rejection of the Baker
Plan had missed an opportunity to secure an outcome that
would have met Morocco's needs (i.e., autonomy) while
honoring the principle of self-determination. Stressing that
Algeria had no territorial claims or ambitions whatsoever in
the Western Sahara, he recalled a conversation several years
ago in which Hassan II had said Morocco "understood"
Algeria's need for access to the Atlantic and thus would be
willing to provide a "land corridor" for Algeria. Belkheir
said he had responded that Algeria had no territorial claims
whatsoever but was only seeking self-determination for the
Sahrawis. For Algeria the stability of Morocco and the
Moroccan throne were vital to Algerian interests.

AMB: NEED FOR REALISM ON WESTERN SAHARA


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





6. (C) Belkheir asked if Ambassador had seen President
Bouteflika's recent letter to President Bush (in which he
noted that Algeria had kept its commitment to the President
to cooperate fully with Baker and reaffirmed Algeria's strong
attachment to implementing the Baker Plan). With evident
concern, he also noted that Ambassador Bolton had raised the
issue of whether MINURSO's mandate should be renewed, since
it was clearly not fulfilling its mandated mission.
Regarding the latter, Ambassador said we had, as he knew,
voted to extend MINURSO for another six months, and that had
been the right decision. That said, reminding all concerned
that the status quo should not be taken for granted was
useful and appropriate. It was important to avoid another
UNFICYP-type situation, where a costly peacekeeping force
became a pillar of an unsatisfactory status quo, enabling the
parties to avoid their responsibilities for achieving a
solution.



7. (C) Regarding the Bouteflika letter, Ambassador said it
had presented Algerian views very clearly. At the same time,
one had to be realistic. Morocco has rejected the Baker
Plan, no one was prepared to impose a solution, and, with the
parties stalemated and issues like Iraq, Iran, Syria, and
Palestine on Washington's plate, it was unlikely there would
be much high-level interest in investing heavily in the
issue, especially at a time when there were few signs of
flexibility that could make progress possible. One also had
to be realistic in recognizing that Morocco was no more
willing to accept an independence outcome than the Polisario
or Algeria were willing to accept a unilateral fait accompli
incorporating the Western Sahara into Morocco. This being
the case, anyone who was really serious about a solution
needed to be focusing on the one element of the Baker Plan --
autonomy -- where there was some common ground. Noting
Belkheir's own arguments that Morocco's rejection of Baker
had been a missed opportunity to produce an autonomy outcome
that Morocco could live with, Ambassador said the challenge
was to find a way, within a UN framework, to bring such a
solution about through a process that honored the principle
of self-determination. To succeed, imagination, realism, and
flexibility would be required from both sides. Belkheir
listened carefully, neither agreeing nor disagreeing.

IRAN, SYRIA


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





8. (C) Belkheir introduced the issue of Iran, expressing
astonishment and concern over Iranian President Ahmadinejad's
"irresponsible" call for "wiping Israel off the map."
Ambassador said we agreed such remarks by a head of state
were unprecedented and dangerous, and expressed
disappointment that Algeria and other Arab states had not
spoken out more clearly and forcefully in public in response
to such unacceptable statements. These statements
underscored our concerns over Iranian efforts to seek a
nuclear weapons capability under the guise of a peaceful
nuclear energy program. The development of such a capability
by Iran would be extremely destabilizing for the region. It
was essential to maintain a firm international consensus in
order to convince Iran to change course. On Syria and the
Mehlis Report, Belkheir volunteered that it was important for
the Syrian leadership to cooperate with the investigation,
even if the trail led to individuals such as Military
Intelligence Chief Shawkat or Bashar Asad's brother Maher.

BILATERAL ISSUES/BLUE LANTERN


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





9. (C) Ambassador briefed Belkheir on recent progress in our
bilateral relations, including last week's signing of a $4
million landmark MEPI grant to strengthen English teaching in
Algerian public schools, the planned December signing of an
S&T Cooperation Framework Agreement, important progress in
narrowing the remaining issues in the Open Skies negotiation,
upcoming high level visits, and the joint military exercise
now under way. Ambassador said an important exception to
these positive developments was the continuing lack of
cooperation on the Blue Lantern issue. Ambassador reviewed
familiar arguments, stressed Algeria's interest in
cooperating with what was a minor, technical, non-obtrusive
request, expressed concern over MOD Minister-Delegate
Guenaizia's apparent reluctance to meet with the Ambassador
to discuss the issue, and noted the very concrete
implications of non-cooperation, which were neither in our
nor Algeria's interest.



10. (C) Belkheir expressed satisfaction with the overall
growth and direction of U.S.-Algerian relations, agreed we
needed to resolve the Blue Lantern issue, and said that
following Ambassador's expression of concern in their last
conversation, he had briefed President Bouteflika. The
latter, he reported, had replied, "I am the Minister of
Defense." (Comment: The day after this luncheon
conversation, the Defense Attache received a formal note from
the MOD indicating that following "a study," the MOD had
decided to cooperate with our Blue Lantern request. This
suggests the President in his capacity as Minister of Defense
may have directly intervened to resolve the problem.)
ERDMAN