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06RABAT316 2006-02-23 17:41:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Rabat
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1. (C) Summary: Ambassador hosted Algerian Ambassador Larbi
Belkheir for an informal tea and conversation on the Western
Sahara and Morocco-Algeria relations the afternoon of
February 16. Belkheir had just returned from Algiers the
previous day. Present were Algerian DCM Ginad Boumedienne,
NEA/MAG Director William Jordan, DCM, and Polcouns. Belkheir
reiterated Algeria's long-standing position on the Western
Sahara conflict, stressing that a solution required Morocco
and the Polisario to negotiate directly. He was skeptical
that a Moroccan autonomy plan could satisfy the Polisario's
demand for self-determination and thus serve as a basis for
negotiations. Withdrawing MINURSO would be a mistake,
Belkheir said, as it would be the combatants face-to-face
with no buffer between them. Belkheir noted that he had met
with King Mohammed "fifteen days ago," and the two reaffirmed
that Morocco and Algeria should try to make progress in their
bilateral relations while putting the Western Sahara conflict
to the side. Belkheir stressed that his role as Ambassador
was to make progress in the bilateral relationship, not to
focus on the Western Sahara issue. Algeria was fully
committed to improving the bilateral relationship, and things
could proceed better if there were less clamor and "more
calm." Belkheir defended Algerian weapons purchases,
stressing they were strictly for self-defense "even though
Algeria has no enemies." End Summary.

2. (C) Following up a lunch invitation last November (Ref
A), thus far not reciprocated, Ambassador invited Algerian
Ambassador Belkheir to Villa America the afternoon of
February 16 for an informal dialogue on the Western Sahara
and Morocco-Algeria relations, in honor of the visit of
NEA/MAG Director William Jordan. Belkheir had just returned
from Algiers the previous day. Opening the one-hour
conversation, Ambassador noted that King Mohammed had
remarked to SecDef Rumsfeld during their February 13 meeting
in Ifrane, Morocco (Ref B) that he had met recently with
Belkheir, and had told Rumsfeld that Belkheir's appointment
as Ambassador to Morocco was a positive sign. (Comment:
Ambassador did not relay the full exchange between the King
and SecDef Rumsfeld on this subject; i.e., that the SecDef
said Belkheir's appointment must be a good sign in that
Bouteflika was sending such an important and trusted advisor
to Morocco, to which the King responded: sometimes you must
be wary when things appear to be too good. End Comment).
Belkheir said he and the King had had a good meeting, and
restated their mutual commitment to improving relations
between Morocco and Algeria, and not allowing the Western
Sahara issue to serve as an impediment.

3. (C) Jordan noted that the US was awaiting the Moroccan
autonomy plan and was urging the Moroccans to expand their
thinking on autonomy and make it real and credible to the
Sahrawi people. The US anticipated that a credible autonomy
plan could serve as the basis for negotiations between the
parties, which would include a role for Algeria in addition
to the Polisario. The US had publicly called for Morocco to
negotiate with the Polisario. Jordan noted that his visit
would continue to Algiers and Tindouf, where he anticipated
meeting with the Polisario leadership. He would urge the
Polisario, in turn, to give serious consideration to
Morocco's autonomy plan and to agree to contacts and to start
negotiations without preconditions.

4. (C) Belkheir expressed skepticism that Morocco's autonomy
plan would provide sufficient scope for Sahrawi
self-determination, and was thus unsure it would prove
attractive enough to bring the Polisario to the negotiating
table. Belkheir said the Baker Plan was an intelligent plan.
It was too bad that another American had not replaced Baker.
Nevertheless, Algeria would support a solution agreed to by
Morocco and the Polisario. Algeria had a long-standing and
well-known position on the Western Sahara; this was an issue
of decolonization, and Algeria could not abandon its
commitment to self-determination for the Sahrawis. In the
end, a solution could be reached; all sides wanted a solution
for the good of the Maghreb, and a just solution could be

found creating neither victor nor vanquished.

5. (C) In response to questions concerning his reading of
the Polisario, Belkheir emphasized that he was not in Morocco
to focus on the Western Sahara issue. His mandate was to
focus on the bilateral relationship between Morocco and
Algeria. He had been well-received in Morocco since his
arrival in late 2005, but it was time for relations between
the two countries to move forward in a more concrete way.
Algeria was committed to a better relationship, and had
always worked toward that end. There was tremendous scope
for an improved relationship. "We can go a long way with
Morocco," he said. He reiterated that the Western Sahara
issue would not be a casus belli between the two countries.
In response to Jordan's question about the status of efforts
to reopen the Morocco/Algeria border, Belkheir reiterated the
long-standing Algerian position that the two sides still
needed to resolve technical issues. Belkheir indicated there
was no point in opening the border now only to close it again
in a few years; there had to be assurances the border issues
would be resolved before re-opening. (Comment: this is
perhaps a good example of the stubbornness that both sides
have exhibited with regard to bilateral relations. Despite
the advantages to both sides of re-opening the border, as
seen from Rabat it appears the GOA has decided to hang on to
this "card" for later. End comment). Jordan lamented that
the situation had apparently not changed in well over a year
and noted that progress in this area would be the most
tangible sign of a meaningful bilateral rapprochement.



6. (C) DCM asked Belkheir how the Algerians saw MINURSO's
role at this point. Belkheir said withdrawing MINURSO could
be destabilizing. The removal of a buffer between Moroccan
and Polisario forces could be dangerous. DCM noted that the
Polisario could not survive without tacit Algerian support,
as it was based on Algerian territory. Belkheir said the GOA
of course discouraged any resort to violence, but the
Polisario was not limited to Algerian territory. Polisario
forces extended most of the way to the berm, i.e., in those
areas of the Western Sahara not under Moroccan control.

Arms Sales


7. (C) DCM queried Belkheir on Algerian motives for recent
weapons purchases. Belkheir said any weapons purchases were
strictly for self-defense. He sought to put the acquisition
of new aircraft in the context of a technical upgrade from
existing and increasingly obsolete equipment. Algeria never
questioned Morocco on its weapons purchases or military
agreements. Morocco was a sovereign state and was entitled
to do what it wished to guarantee its own security. Algeria
operated on the same basis. DCM wondered who Algeria's
enemies were. Belkheir said in fact Algeria did not have any
enemies. In a slightly awkward historical allusion, Belkheir
recalled the start of Algeria's arms relationship with Russia
in the post-independence era. At that time, only the USSR
and its eastern bloc allies were willing to provide Algeria
weapons in response to Morocco's occupation of Tindouf as
part of a border dispute.

8. (U) NEA/MAG Jordan cleared this message.

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