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06RABAT50 2006-01-10 17:58:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Rabat
Cable title:  

REP. LANTOS DISCUSSES IRAQ, IRAN, AND SYRIA WITH

Tags:   ETRD MO PGOV PREL PTER 
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1. (C) Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA) met with FM Benaissa for 90
minutes on January 4 at the MFA. Benaissa lauded US-Morocco
relations and outlined many of the accomplishments of King
Mohammed in the area of womens rights, equity and
reconciliation, and press freedom. Benaissa was gloomy about
Iraq, fearing the situation was strengthening the Shia and
playing into Iran's hands. He assured Lantos that Iranian
President Ahmedinijad's statements on Israel were not
reasonating in Morocco. Benaissa described Syrian VP
Khaddam's interview in al-Arabiyya as a bomb whose full
impact in the region was not yet felt. End Summary.



2. (U) Participants:
USG
---

Ambassador Riley
Rep. Tom Lantos
HIRC Director Robert King
HIRC Senior Advisor Alan Makovsky
Mrs. Nancy Riley
Mrs. Annette Lantos
Mr. Philip Friedman
Ms. Rose Friedman
Mr. Jeffrey Friedman
Polcouns (notetaker)

MFA
---

FM Mohamed Benaissa
Chef du Cabinet Abdelaziz Laabi
MFA Bilateral Affairs Director Youssef Amrani
MFA UN Affairs Director Zhour Alaoui
MFA American Affairs Director Salahuddin Tazi
MFA American Affairs Desk Wassane Zailachi
MFA American Affairs Desk Aladdin Belhadi
MFA Counselor for Multilateral Affairs Raja Ghanem



3. (C) FM Benaissa said the Lantos visit came as both the US
and Morocco were engaged in major undertakings around the
world. The US-Morocco Free Trade Agreement (FTA) was on
track. Benaissa said the Parliament had summoned Deputy FM
Fassi Fihri after the previous day's lunch meeting with PM
Jettou (Ref A) to ask why the GOM had been so late in
submitting the remaining FTA legislation to Parliament (see
Ref D). King Mohammed had launched a durable human
development initiative. Morocco was impressed by the
possibilities with the Millennium Challenge Corporation
(MCC). Benaissa noted that on January 8 there would be a
meeting of the foreign ministers of the Arab Maghreb Union
(AMU). The meeting was to have taken place earlier but was
delayed, having been torpedoed by various parties. Former
U/S Eisenstat had called for the integration of the Maghreb
and had said, "Knock down the borders." But the Maghreb's
borders were, unfortunately, closed, and Morocco hoped that
with the help of its friends relations with Algeria could be
normalized and the Maghreb could start focusing on regional
development. The goal was "horizontal and not vertical
integration."



4. (C) Regionally, Benaissa continued, the situation was
complicated. The Palestinian issue; the assassination of
Lebanese PM Hariri; the wave of democratization sweeping the
region; the Egyptian elections; kidnappings in Yemen -- all
were major issues. The widespread condemnation of the
kidnappings in Yemen by all sectors of Yemeni society was a
very important development. Africa was facing serious
problems: AIDS, war, hunger.



5. (C) Internally, Benaissa said the Mohammed VI era was
witnessing many changes and reforms. There were no political
prisoners on record. The Equity and Reconciliation
Commission (IER) was allowing Morocco to turn the page on
human rights abuses in the past without "others" re-writing
history. The King had encouraged the rights of women with
changes in the family code -- now men needed to get with the
program. In freedom of the press, Morocco had made important
breakthroughs. The line between liberty and permissivenes

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was very thin. A challenge with freedom was that when people
are not used to it and suddenly have it, they can "over-use"
it.



6. (C) Praising Benaissa as a statesman and former US
ambassador, Lantos responded the US hoped to assist Morocco
in building the kind of Maghreb that Benaissa had described
and that Morocco was endeavoring to build. Lantos had been
pleased to sit next to then Crown Prince Mohammed a number of
years ago at a dinner in Washington. Lantos expressed
optimism that the ultimate victor in the current battle
between civilization and barbarism was clear. The victory
would not be easy. The terrorists were using technology they
had not invented but were able to buy. The US deeply
appreciated Morocco's support in the war on terror.
Concerning the FTA, Lantos said it seemed like the right step
for Morocco, whatever his own personal views on free trade.
The US would do its utmost to minimize the hardships and
bumps as implementation of the accord got underway.

Iraq: Blood is Like Oxygen


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





7. (C) Benaissa said the GOM was very concerned about the
situation in Iraq. The turmoil was continuing longer than
anticipated. Morocco hoped it would end soon. Morocco
insisted on the unity of Iraq -- of the people as well as the
land.



8. (C) Lantos noted he had sat next to Iraqi Ambassador to
Morocco Abdul Mohsin Saeed the previous night during a dinner
hosted by Ambassador Riley. The US was deeply concerned
about the two Moroccan Embassy employees who were kidnapped
in October. Lantos said that in spite of criticism within
the US on Iraq policy, there was broad bipartisan support for
it in Congress. Even critics in Congress agreed that the
coalition and Iraqi government had to prevail. There was
very little support for rapid deployment of US forces out of
Iraq. How did the GOM see the situation unfolding over the
next year? Success was mandatory, Lantos stressed; the
situation in Afghanistan was improving, though Lantos wished
NATO would do more there and eventually move into Iraq.



9. (C) Benaissa responded that he had no crystal ball for
the coming year. Historically forces who entered Iraq never
came back in tact. Iraq was a difficult land, where blood
was like oxygen. Benaissa worried the situation was playing
into the hands of the Shia. Any strengthening of the Shia,
in any country, ultimately played into the hands of Iran.
The US needed to be clear about that. While it was
politically incorrect to say so, Iraq needed a strong man, or
perhaps a military troika composed of Shia, Sunni, and Kurd.
The danger was that the Iraq conflict could spill over. It
was not a conventional war, and it could go on forever,
especially with the suicide attacks, which were something new
to Islam and Arabs.

Iran


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





10. (C) Lantos asked Benaissa how Iranian President
Ahmedinajad's outrageous statements concerning Israel were
perceived in Morocco. Benaissa responded that the Moroccan
press had hardly covered the remarks, and "everyone thought
they were foolish and out of place." There was no need for
such statements, especially from a head of state. (Note: As
reported Ref E, despite a joint demarche from fifteen
diplomats in Rabat in November, the GOM has not condemned the
Iranian statements. Deputy FM Fassi Fihri argued in the
November meeting that, while the GOM was in complete
agreement with the demarche, it was difficult for the GOM to
make a statement because of ongoing concerns regarding the
two Moroccan hostages in Iraq). Benaissa likened Ahmedinijad
to Chavez of Venezuela and said the US should expect even
worse statements from him. Such statements were
unacceptable, Benaissa stressed, and such people "need to be
watched."

VP Khaddam: Thunder in a Blue Sky


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





11. (C) Lantos asked Benaissa for his views on the recent
statements by Syrian VP Khaddam. Benaissa described
Khaddam's interview with al-Arabiyya as "thunder in a blue
sky." Benaissa said Khaddam also seemed to be promoting
"perestroika;" he was condemning the past but in the process
condemning himself for having been part of it. But he had

RABAT 00000050 003 OF 003


done it cleverly; the timing, place, and medium were all well
thought out. Broadcasting on al-Arabiyaa from Paris was a
masterpiece of production. Benaissa said there was now no
return for Khaddam. The shock of his statements was so
strong that people in the region do not even know the impact.
Rightly or wrongly, he has laid bare the state of affairs in
Syria. He addressed the assassination of Hariri in a way
that clearly does not help Syria. He questioned the
governance of the country. He put into doubt the whole Baath
Party enterprise.



12. (C) Benaissa said the region was worried about Lebanon.
There were still those in Lebanon who supported Syria.
Morocco feared a more serious confrontation. The SARG
reaction to Khaddam will not stop at action by parliament --
this is just a facade. The situation will have an impact on
the region. Syria is a fundamental player in the region.
The international community has to do the right thing.
Benaissa reminded Lantos that Morocco had played an
instrumental role in bringing about the ceasefire in Lebanon.
The Taif Accords were in part Hassan II's idea. He had
received a group of Lebanese parliamentarians and worked with
the Saudis on Taif.



13. (C) Benaissa said the GOM did not want to offer advice
on the situation with Syria and Lebanon. Things were always
more complicated than they seemed. Moroccan institutions
enjoyed credibility in the region, but Morocco did not ask
for anything in return. Morocco plays its role in the region
out of conviction and courage.



14. (C) Lantos asked Benaissa if he had a read-out of Hosni
Mubarak's recent brief stopover in Saudi Arabia. Benaissa
said Mubarak met with King Abdullah on his way to Paris. The
two sides put out a pro forma diplomatic statement, the kind
that happens "whenever two heads of state meet." Beyond
that, though, both Egypt and Saudi Arabia were working hard
on the Lebanon problem. The real reason for Mubarak's visit
to Saudi Arabia, though, Benaissa surmised, was to
"unjustify" any suggestion that Saudi Arabia was involved in
Khaddam's "bomb," a conclusion some might draw since
al-Arabiyya is a Saudi station. Egypt was also trying to
assert its traditional leadership in the region. Arabs were
not used to seeing things happen in the region without the
involvement of Egypt.

Western Sahara


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





15. (C) Benaissa said Morocco remained concerned about
tensions in the Sahara. There was extensive trafficking in
arms, narcotics, and people, along with illegal migration.
The US and Morocco needed to work together. Morocco's
concern was the Polisario: an armed group without a formal
army. "Anything can happen" in such a situation, he said.



16. (U) The Lantos delegation did not have a chance to clear
this cable prior to departing Morocco.
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Riley