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06RABAT728 2006-04-20 17:51:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Rabat
Cable title:  

AMBASSADOR MEETS WITH ARAB MAGHREB UNION SECRETARY

Tags:   ECON MO PBTS PGOV PREL 
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1. (C) Summary: Ambassador met April 19 with Arab Maghreb
Union (AMU) Secretary General Habib Ben Yahia to discuss the
AMU's role in regional integration, the Western Sahara,
counterterrorism and human rights. Ben Yahia explained that
the AMU works well at the ministerial and technical levels
when the five member countries focus on such cross-cutting
issues as health, education, finance and infrastructure
development. At the "political" level, the fact that a
summit has not been held since 1994 posed an obstacle, but
did not prevent the AMU from continuing its work. Ben Yahia
described member states as increasingly understanding the
need for collective action against collective threats such as
terrorism, illegal immigration and desertification. Their
budgetary contributions also reflect their support for the
integration process. He said that the issue of the Western
Sahara was best dealt with by the UN, but that the continued
contact and cooperation between Morocco and Algeria on issues
of common concern could eventually serve to "diminish"
differences between the two countries. Despite its seeming
distance from the other AMU member countries, Mauritania is
fully engaged in the regional integration process. Ben Yahia
described AMU efforts to hold an Interior Ministers' meeting
later this year and to establish a commission dealing with
civil society and human rights issues. Throughout the
meeting, Ben Yahia repeatedly urged U.S. support to promote
the regional integration process and pledged to be in close
contact with the Mission during his tenure as SYG. End
summary.



2. (C) Ambassador met April 19 for one hour with newly
appointed Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) Secretary General Habib
Ben Yahia to discuss the AMU's role in regional integration,
at Ben Yahia's request. Ambassador congratulated Ben Yahia
on his posting and delivered ref a congratulatory letter from
Secretary Rice. Ben Yahia explained that his appointment in

SIPDIS
February follows a ten-year stint as Tunisian Foreign
Minister and two years as special advisor to President Ben
Ali. He described his mission as working to enhance regional
integration, with a particular focus on issues of common
concern to the five member countries. He explained the
ongoing "grassroots integration process" which consists of 10
to 15 annual meetings at a technical or ministerial level on
such issues as: desertification, water, health (including
avian flu), and the harmonization of educational systems. At
this level, Ben Yahia said, the AMU is doing a "fine job."
However, while he said that the Western Sahara is not on his
agenda, he said he feels the "obstacle of it" on the AMU
process at a more political level.

AMU Works at a Certain Level


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




3. (C) Ben Yahia noted that he had met with Moroccan Prime
Minister Jettou earlier in the day and that the GOM seemed
well disposed to further regional integration. He plans to
visit Algeria next month to try to "get momentum going."
Instead of focusing on the Western Sahara issue, however, Ben
Yahia said he would try to emphasize the common interests of
the five countries. Unfortunately, the closed borders
between Algeria and Morocco diminish AMU efforts regarding
trade, communications and shared infrastructure such as
autoroutes. On the technical and ministerial level, however,
progress continues to be made. While a summit has not been
held since 1994, foreign ministers continue to meet at least
twice annually and other ministers (for example, Trade,
Transportation, and Finance) and technical experts meet on an
ad hoc basis. For example, last month's Finance Ministers'
meeting in Tunisia resulted in the establishment of the
Maghreb Bank which will be operational by early next year.
Other examples of technical cooperation include the ongoing
construction of an inter-Maghreb highway system, an already
functioning shared electricity system, and a proposal for a
trans-Maghreb rapid train connection currently being studied.
Ben Yahia said that his vision is to work on "building
confidence with small steps," but emphasized that we "need
some pushing from friends such as the US and the EU" to get

RABAT 00000728 002 OF 003


the five countries to do more for regional integration. Ben
Yahia said repeatedly that he hoped that his "friends in
Washington would pay some attention to these issues."



4. (C) Ben Yahia explained that the economic advantages of
integration may prove the most persuasive. According to Ben
Yahia, economic studies indicate that if Maghreb integration
succeeds, each country will add two points to their economic
growth rates and the amount of exports from each country to
other Maghreb countries will be multiplied tenfold. Ben
Yahia said he has detected a new disposition to accelerate
the integration process based on a growing awareness and
understanding of the economic benefits involved. The AMU,
however, continues to need an external push. In this regard,
A/S Welch's and former A/S Burns's statements during their
visits to the region emphasizing the importance of the
integration process had been very helpful. The Ambassador
agreed that, as in Morocco, regional economic development and
growth are essential. When you consider the five countries
involved, they form a good marketplace due to the
complementarity of goods and services they can each provide.
In addition, the creation of that market will also attract
foreign investment, another means for generating growth and
creating employment.



5. (C) Apart from the economic benefits, member countries had
also begun to recognize a need for collective action on other
key issues, according to Ben Yahia. For example, Nouakchott
had recently hosted a Commission to discuss desertification.
When the five member countries saw weekly satellite photos of
the desert creep, they committed to study common measures
necessary to counter this phenomena. While this particular
meeting had been singularly focused, Ben Yahia described a
"new kind of awareness" amongst the members that such issues
as terrorism, security, illegal migration, locusts, and avian
flu must also be collectively dealt with in order to put a
stop to them. The Ambassador told Ben Yahia that the US had
been very active in the locust situation last year and had
found good cooperation from Mali and Mauritania.

Western Sahara Belongs to the UN


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




6. (C) In response to Ambassador's query regarding the AMU's
role in the Western Sahara, Ben Yahia said that the Western
Sahara issue should be left to the UN, which could be more
proactive. That said, the longer that Algeria and Morocco
work together under the AMU umbrella on other issues, the
less impact the Western Sahara issue will have. In Ben
Yahia's "modest" experience thus far with the AMU, the issue
of the Western Sahara never arises in the commissions
discussing such cross-border issues as avian flu, water, and
desertification. While King Mohammed's autonomy proposal may
resolve the situation in the long run, the AMU must continue
in the meantime to work on common problems of security,
instability, immigration, poverty, unemployment, and
terrorism. If the US and EU could increase their emphasis on
bolstering the regional integration process, Ben Yahia said,
the Western Sahara issue could perhaps be "diluted little by
little" over time.

Mauritania a Full Player


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




7. (C) In response to Ambassador's question, Ben Yahia said
that Mauritania was fully participating in the AMU and
committed to the regional integration process. In
particular, with the discovery of oil, the government of
Mauritania is keen on becoming part of the Maghreb energy
network. While Mauritania faces both sub-Saharan Africa and
the Maghreb, both the former and current leaders are eager to
have better connections with the Maghreb because it will
promote economic development. Although Mauritania is "far
away," the new "President" is deeply involved in the
integration process because he has big challenges to meet
domestically in both the democratizing and the development
process.

Counterterrorism Cooperation


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




8. (C) The Ambassador noted that the U.S. has an interest in
bolstering capacity in the Maghreb countries to fight

RABAT 00000728 003 OF 003


terrorism and emphasized that the AMU could play an important
role in such issues. Ben Yahia explained that the Security
Commission for Ministers of Interior had not held a meeting
since 1994 because of the problems between Morocco and
Algeria. However, the AMU would host a meeting of experts
from the five Ministries of Interior next month to prepare
for a meeting of Interior Ministers later this year.

New Civil Society Commission


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




9. (C) In response to Ambassador's query on AMU involvement
in social issues and human rights, Ben Yahia explained that
the Union has special commissions on women's emancipation and
the harmonization of the educational systems. Recently he
hosted a meeting on the formation of a joint NGO civil
society commission to deal specifically with human rights and
other social issues. The group will meet next in August in
Tunis to establish an organization to create chapters in each
country.

No Budget Issues


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




10. (C) Responding to the Ambassador, Ben Yahia noted that
the AMU now has five institutions: the Secretariat in Rabat,
the Maghreb Parliament in Algiers, the Judicial Court in
Nouakchott, a university in Tripoli and the Maghreb Bank for
Investment and Trade in Tunis. The budget of each of these
institutions is shared equally by the five member countries.
The Secretariat, for example, requires approximately USD 3-4
million annually for expenditures, including hosting
meetings. According to Ben Yahia, the organization is
actually "well-provided" with funding which demonstrates the
will of the five member states to support the regional
integration process.

U.S. Assistance Requested


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




11. (C) Ben Yahia reiterated his request that the U.S. help
support the regional integration process numerous times
throughout the meeting and pledged to be in close contact
with the U.S. Mission during his tenure in Rabat.
******************************************
Visit Embassy Rabat's Classified Website;
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/nea/rabat
******************************************

Riley