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06RABAT1706 2006-09-13 17:26:00 UNCLASSIFIED Embassy Rabat
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1. (SBU) Summary: Russian President Putin's 18-hour visit to
Morocco September 6-7 emphasized economic and commercial ties
between the two countries, with the signature of cooperation
agreements in fields ranging from fisheries to tourism,
culture, and communications. Putin was accompanied by 50
leading Russian businessmen, who attended an inaugural
meeting of a new Russian-Moroccan Business Council in
Casablanca. 2005 Trade figures show that the Council has
much work to do: while oil and gas exports have vaulted
Russia into 5th place among exporters to Morocco, Moroccan
exports lag far behind. After the concerns that Russia's
large arms sale to Algeria sparked earlier this year, Russian
officials were also at pains to emphasize that the
reinforcement of bilateral relations would "contribute to
stability in the region," and that the two nations have a
common approach on issues ranging from the Middle East to the
Western Sahara. End Summary.

2. (SBU) As predicted, Russian President Putin's short visit
to Morocco on September 6-7 focused primarily on economic and
commercial issues. In his public remarks, Putin emphasized
that the African continent represents an important "vector of
expansion" for Russia, which intends to expand cooperation
with Morocco in such areas as energy and agriculture. He
pointed particularly to atomic energy, electricity, and
hydrocarbons as fields where Russia and Morocco could work
together. The nuclear issue in particular sparked a range of
press speculation, building on a separate press statement by
Russian firms that they plan to bid on any tender by the
Moroccan government for a nuclear power plant. Separate
reports indicated that senior officials of the National
Electricity Office (ONE) traveled to Russia at the end of
August to meet with Rosatom about Morocco's nuclear energy
plans. (Note: Such a visit would not be surprising; ONE
officials told us in late August that they were exploring
their nuclear power options with the full range of possible
international suppliers (ref d). End Note.)

3. (U) The formal meeting between President Putin and King
Mohammed on September 7 saw the signature of a range of
bilateral agreements, including:

-- A Justice convention, to permit nationals convicted of
crimes in one state to serve their sentence in their native

-- A Fisheries Agreement, permitting 12 Russian vessels to
fish in Moroccan waters from October 15, 2006, when the
existing agreement expires. By terms of the accord, the
Russian vessels are allotted a quota of 12,000 tons of
pelagic fish for the agreement's first year, a total that
will be reviewed annually. Russian vessels are required to
accept Moroccan scientific observers and to employ Moroccan

-- An Agreement on Tourism, which seeks to expand bilateral
cooperation in tourism, through regular exchanges of tourism
experts and the organization of cultural and sporting events.

-- An Agreement on Cultural and Scientific Cooperation, to
reinforce cooperation in these areas, including through
offering scholarships to enable students to study in the
other country.

-- An agreement on Communications, which aims at stricter
respect for intellectual property rights, while also
facilitating media accreditation and cooperation in the
realms of cinema, radio, television, and advertising.

-- and finally an agreement on cooperation to ensure
agricultural trade does not result in transmission of plant
diseases, through ensuring vegetal quarantines and protection
of vegetal crops.

4. (SBU) For the business leaders accompanying the Russian
President, the central event of the visit was the
constitutive assembly of a Russian-Moroccan joint business
council. Building on a convention that was signed in Moscow
in June, the council will seek to promote business
opportunities and exchange of information between businesses.
Recent trade figures highlight the fact that there is much
work to do: while Russian exports to Morocco nearly tripled
from 2001 to 2005 (from 4.2 to 12.2 billion MD, or nearly 7
percent of Moroccan imports), a doubling of Moroccan exports
over the same period (from 600 million DM to 1.2 billion MD,
or 1.3 percent of Moroccan exports) left the bilateral trade
deficit at nearly 11 billion MD (1.4 billion USD).

5. (SBU) If economics were at the center of the visit,
Russian officials were at pains to emphasize the fact that
there was a political purpose as well. Both Russian
Presidential Advisor Mikhail Kaminine and Ambassador
Alexandre Tokovinine stressed the "longstanding friendship"
between the two countries and their "close or common" outlook
on issues ranging from the Middle East Peace Process to the
Western Sahara. The Moroccan press argued the unspoken
subtext of the visit was Russia's desire to assuage Moroccan
concerns about its large (7.5 billion USD) arms sale to
Algeria earlier this year.

6. (SBU) Comment: Putin's visit appears to have checked a box
for Russia by signalling its desire to expand bilateral ties,
notwithstanding its historically close relationship to
Algeria. The energy issue, and in particular that of nuclear
power, will likely garner the most extensive interest from
Moscow, and it is one we will monitor closely, given the
potential interest in the project by American companies as
well. End Comment.
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