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05PARIS5241 2005-07-29 16:32:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Paris
Cable title:  

FRENCH MFA UPDATE ON MAGHREB ISSUES

Tags:   PREL AG MO TS LY FR 
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1. (C) Summary: During a meeting with visiting NEA/MAG Acting
Director William Jordan, MFA DAS-equivalent for the Maghreb
Christian Testot reported continued difficulties with the
Algerian government over a February 2005 French law lauding
achievements from the French colonial period, with Algerian
press criticism targeting French FM Douste-Blazy for
sponsoring similar legislation in his former MP role.
Strains over the issue could complicate a Douste-Blazy visit
to Algiers in August, and undermine prospects for concluding
the landmark French-Algerian friendship treaty sought by the
GoF this year. Testot bemoaned the downward spiral in
Moroccan-Algerian relations, blaming both sides in part, but
questioned the motivations of the Bouteflika government to a
greater degree. Testot agreed with Jordan on human rights
setbacks in Tunisia, but did not suggest a shift in the GoF
approach to the issue. On Libya, Testot acknowledged
complications in implementation of the compensation agreement
for the UTA 772 bombing, and described the normalization
process with France as incremental. End summary.

STRAINS IN ALGERIAN-FRENCH RELATIONS


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





2. (C) Visiting NEA/MAG Acting Director William Jordan met
with MFA DAS-equivalent for the Maghreb Christian Testot July
25, for a tour d'horizon on Maghreb issues. Starting with
Algeria, Testot observed that relations between Paris and
Algiers were going through a "bizarre" phase, with the GOA
continuing its public criticisms of the French colonial
period, in a delayed response to a February 2005 French law
which welcomed the positive French role in its former
overseas territories (refs a-b). Testot surmised that
Algerians continued to view colonialism as the source of all
Algeria's problems. A further complicating factor was that
new French FM Douste-Blazy, in his former role as a member of
parliament, had sponsored French legislation similar to that
which sparked the current controversy. (Note: Douste-Blazy
is from the Toulouse region, home to a sizable minority of
"pied noirs," former French settlers expelled from Algeria
upon independence. End note.) Testot observed that articles
critical of Douste-Blazy were appearing on a daily basis in
the Algerian press, and that the GoF had yet to secure
Algerian MFA agreement to the dates for a proposed
Douste-Blazy visit to Algiers in late August. Testot
stressed that GoF wanted to avoid escalation of the
controversy and had urged French parliamentarians not to
react to statements coming from Algiers. Both sides needed
to find the right words to describe their colonial history,
with the issue being a sensitive one in France, not just
Algeria. In the meantime, the GoF remained focused on
concluding of a landmark Franco-Algerian friendship treaty
this year, which would take bilateral relations to a new
level. Despite Morocco's special relationship with Paris, he
opined, Algeria represented the most important potential
strategic partner for France in the Maghreb. The GoF was
beginning to wonder, however, whether Bouteflika might be
having second thoughts about concluding the Friendship Treaty
this year.

PESSIMISM ON MOROCCAN-ALGERIAN RELATIONS


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





3. (C) Testot reaffirmed shared GoF-USG concern on the
downward spiral in Moroccan-Algerian relations, and described
the GOA as regressing a bit into 1970's ideologies, while the
GOM tended to overreact in a maladroit fashion to statements
coming out of Algiers. Testot attributed GOA's hardening
stance in part to Algeria's comfortable economic position,
with its sizable gas reserves, and the sweeping Bouteflika
election victory in 2004. He also speculated that that
Bouteflika could be showing a tougher stance towards Morocco
and stirring up the colonialism issue in order to deflect
criticism from other policies, such as a possible amnesty for
former participants in Algeria's civil war. Testot voiced
pessimism on prospects for improving ties between Rabat and
Algiers, noting that FM Douste-Blazy had provoked a negative
reaction in both capitals for linking Moroccan-Algerian
direct dialogue to resolution of the Western Sahara conflict.
He added that the recent "5 5" ministerial meeting in Malta
did nothing to clear the air, as Morocco did not send a
ministerial representative (due to FM Benaissa having to
accompany PM Jettou to Madrid). Testot agreed with Jordan
that the GoF and U.S. needed to find ways to encourage direct
dialogue between the two countries, but current prospects
looked grim, with the Western Sahara issue at "point zero."

TUNISIA HUMAN RIGHTS


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





4. (C) Testot largely concurred with the U.S. assessment of
the human rights situation in Tunisia, and described Tunisian
civil society as "under siege," with no breathing room. The
GoF had hoped that Tunisia's hosting the World Summit on the
Information Society (WSIS) would be preceded by some
relaxation of GOT controls on the press and civil society,
but no such opening was occurring. Testot commented on the
irony of a government welcoming hundreds of journalists and
information society experts, while continuing to restrict
internet access. He added that the GoF had not decided who
would lead its delegation to the WSIS, but speculated that it
would be either President Chirac, PM de Villepin or FM
Douste-Blazy. Asked about French NGO reactions to Tunisia's
hosting the WSIS, Testot reported that a number of groups,
like Reporters without Borders, were happy to attend, and
planned to take large delegations so they could cause trouble
for the GoT. As for GoF messages to the GoT, Testot stressed
that France continued to privately advise the GoT that reform
was in its interest; the typical GoT response, according to
Testot, was to raise the Islamist threat and insist that the
current system is working well.

LIBYA


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





5. (C) Briefly on Libya, Testot confirmed that the
compensation agreement for the UTA 772 bombing. which should
be paid in full by early 2006, was not fully resolved;
complications continued to come from the Libyan side, with
the Qadhafi Foundation backing out of some of the terms of
the accord (NFI). Testot concluded that it was difficult to
deal with the Libyan government, as every interlocutor said
something different and the state functioned in a bizarre
fashion. The GoF was attempting to normalize relations on a
step by step basis, but Libya remained an outsider in the
Maghreb and appeared disconnected from concrete issues in the
region.



6. (U) Tripoli minimize considered.




STAPLETON