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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
07RABAT528
2007-03-23 17:58:00
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Rabat
Cable title:  

ARAB MAGHREB UNION SYG BRIEFS AMBASSADOR ON

Tags:  PREL ETRD MO AG LY TS MR XA XF 
pdf how-to read a cable
VZCZCXRO4178
RR RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHKUK RUEHROV
DE RUEHRB #0528/01 0821758
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 231758Z MAR 07
FM AMEMBASSY RABAT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6142
INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE
						C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 RABAT 000528 

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/19/2017
TAGS: PREL ETRD MO AG LY TS MR XA XF
SUBJECT: ARAB MAGHREB UNION SYG BRIEFS AMBASSADOR ON
INTEGRATION EFFORTS

REF: RABAT 362

Classified by Ambassador Thomas Riley for reasons 1.4 (b) and
(d).



1. (C) Summary: Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) Secretary-General
Habib Ben Yahya told the Ambassador he was promoting
technical cooperation and trade among member states to
advance regional integration, in a March 2 meeting. "We
can't wait for a miracle political solution," he emphasized.
Ben Yahya cited progress in AMU fora toward developing
region-wide responses to the challenges of terrorism,
extremism, and illegal migration. Ben Yahya professed
confidence that his "professional rather than political
approach" would help AMU states (Algeria, Libya, Mauritania,
Morocco, Libya, and Tunisia) overcome political differences,
particularly the Sahara issue. Ben Yahya plans to visit
Washington in mid-April where he hopes to meet with the
leadership of the World Bank and the IMF, and is also
interested in seeing USG officials. End summary.



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


Getting the Top on Board


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





2. (C) Welcoming the Ambassador to his office at the AMU
Secretariat in Rabat on March 2, Habib Ben Yahya, former

SIPDIS
Tunisian Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Minister of
Defense, was optimistic about the broad range of activities
among member states, particularly in economic and technical
fields. Ben Yahya acknowledged that, while technical and
economic issues hold the most immediate promise for progress
toward AMU integration, progress on the political level,
particularly through a new summit of AMU heads of state,
remains a central objective. The last AMU summit was in


1994.



3. (C) Ben Yahya was heartened by the February meeting of AMU
Foreign Ministers in Rabat (reftel). (Note: The Algerian
Foreign Minister did not attend, Ben Yahya related, for
"health reasons," but he was keen to stress that the presence
of the "very capable" Algerian Deputy Foreign Minister, as
well as the Algerian Labor Minister, was nonetheless
promising. End note.) Ben Yahya also related that, after
"luring" the Foreign Ministers to Rabat for the first time
since 1995, they all (including the Algerians) gladly
convened in facilities at the Moroccan MFA rather than the
very humble setting of the AMU Secretariat, a converted four
story apartment building on a modest side street in Rabat.



4. (C) Ben Yahya was not sanguine about prospects for an AMU
summit in the near term. He recalled that a summit set to be
held in Tripoli in May 2005 had been scrubbed at the last
minute due to tensions between Morocco and Algeria, leaving a
furious Qadhafi holding the bag. "He doesn't want to get
burned again," he observed. "It is easier to get 50 heads of
state together than it is to get these five," Ben Yahya
lamented. Nonetheless, he predicted that that President Ben
Ali, with whom he has worked intimately for years, and who is
on good terms with all parties, could lay the groundwork for
a summit, perhaps on the margins of the Arab League Summit in
Riyadh. Ben Yahya emphasized that he would continue to steer
the AMU Secretariat well clear of the Western Sahara
question, calculating that the injection of this issue could
freeze up progress in other areas. "We will leave this matter
to the UN and to the parties," he stated.



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


AMU CT Engagement Increasing


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





5. (C) Ben Yahya spoke with enthusiasm about progress toward
greater law enforcement and counterterrorism cooperation
among AMU member states. Building on the annual meeting of
Arab Interior Ministers in Tunis, Ben Yahya pushed for the
five AMU Interior Ministers to meet in Tripoli in May. A
preparatory meeting of Directors of Security will be held in
Tunis in April, he advised. The goal of the May meeting is
to develop a strategy for harmonizing regional policies
toward terrorism, drugs, and illegal migration, all phenomena
which transcend the national borders of the region.



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


Finance, Trade and Commerce - the AMU's Front Line


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





6. (C) Given continuing tensions on the political level and
the seeming intractability of the Western Sahara issue, Ben
Yahya related, work on technical, commercial, and economic
issues offered the best hope for progress toward the long
term goal of regional integration. AMU Finance Ministers
have been meeting regularly and making considerable progress

RABAT 00000528 002 OF 003


in the region's financial integration - states are close to
finalizing a new regional development bank (to be based in
Tunis, with $500 million in startup capital), private
Moroccan banks are opening in Algeria and Mauritania, and
Libya and Tunisia already have a "defacto free trade
agreement." A new regional union of employers, established
at a February conference in Marrakech, enjoys high-level
support from all member states and should lead to significant
cross-investments in employment-generating projects, Ben
Yahya predicted.



7. (C) "We still have a very long way to go," Ben Yayha
acknowledged. Intraregional trade within the AMU is a paltry
3 percent of total trade, while in GCC countries it is 10
percent and in ASEAN countries it is 19. Responding to the
Ambassador's question about the closed border between Algeria
and Morocco, Ben Yahya noted that illicit trade between the
two countries was "huge" but would "easily double" if the
land border opened up. He recalled that Tunisia and Libya
previously traded less than $50 million year, but the warming
relationship between the two states in recent years has led
to big economic payoffs, with over $4 billion in Libyan
investments in its small neighbor. AMU Trade Ministers are
scheduled to meet in May, Ben Yahya noted, confident that
their progress will keep on track the late 2007 target date
for the signing of a regional free trade agreement.



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


Roads and Railways to Link the Region


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





7. (C) Ben Yahya also pointed to tangible progress in
regional infrastructure projects. AMU Ministers of
Infrastructure are due to meet in July, he noted. There are
technical talks on rehabilitating the railway linking
Casablanca to Tunis, Ben Yahya stated. There is also
significant progress on construction of a modern highway that
would ultimately link Nouakchott to Tripoli. Key road
segments linking Fez to Oujda (near the Algerian border),
Tunis to Annaba, and Sfax to Tripoli, are all on schedule for
completion by 2009, he reported. For obvious political
reasons, the segment through Western Sahara cannot at present
be completed in the AMU framework. "This is the only example
where political problems have obstructed the work of one of
our technical committees," he asserted.



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


Let the Numbers Tell the Story


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





8. (C) Ben Yahya said the AMU Secretariat is building strong
institutional links with the Arab Development Bank, the IMF,
and the World Bank (WB). Ben Yahya candidly remarked that he
intended to use a recent WB study on potential gains from
regional economic integration in the AMU region to generate
private sector interest and focus member state governments on
the major economic benefits of integration. During an April
visit to Washington, Ben Yahya hopes to call on the
Presidents of the World Bank and IMF to deepen their
institutional engagement with the AMU. (Note: Ben Yahya also
expressed interest in calling on high-level Department
officials, a request the Embassy strongly supports. End
note.)




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


Youth - Defusing the Time Bomb


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





9. (C) Ben Yahya noted that AMU Foreign Ministers who
gathered in Rabat in February (reftel) emphasized the
importance of tending to the youth portfolio. Burgeoning
youth demographics in all member states represent huge
economic and potential security challenges. Faced with
inadequate educational opportunities and unemployment,
marginalized and alienated youth across the region are
vulnerable to extremist teachings, the Ministers agreed.
Security approaches by themselves are inadequate. Major
investments in education are required. On the employment
front, the employers' association founded in Marrakech
represented a promising effort for member states to pool
their resources. "These are regional, even global challenges
- they can't be solved at the local level," he asserted. The
Ministers agreed that the AMU should develop a comprehensive
regional youth policy to address the huge challenges in this
area.



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


Comment


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





11. (C) We are impressed with Ben Yahya's energy and tenacity

RABAT 00000528 003 OF 003


as he fights an uphill battle to prod Maghreb states toward
cooperation and integration. He has clearly had some success
at the technical/ministerial level. Perhaps the greatest
challenge he faces is getting the heads of state to check
their considerable egos and bitter rivalries at the door in
the name of progress and prosperity for the region. Ben
Yahya's strategy of pushing economic and technical
cooperation, and highlighting the opportunity cost of
continued stagnation, is definitely the best, and probably
the only, approach he can take. Washington agencies may wish
to consider any concrete measures we might take to advance
our policy of supporting Maghreb integration. End comment.

******************************************
Visit Embassy Rabat's Classified Website;
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/nea/rabat
******************************************

Riley