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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
07TUNIS722 2007-06-07 14:36:00 SECRET//NOFORN Embassy Tunis
Cable title:  

SCENESETTER FOR FOREIGN MINISTER ABDALLAH'S VISIT

Tags:   PREL PGOV PTER MASS KDEM TS 
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VZCZCXYZ0029
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHTUA #0722 1581436
ZNY SSSSS ZZH ZUI RUEWMCE0351 1581424
P 071436Z JUN 07
FM AMEMBASSY TUNIS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC0000
INFO MAGHREB COLLECTIVE
					  S E C R E T TUNIS 000722 

SIPDIS

NOFORN
SIPDIS

STATE FOR NEA/FO (WELCH AND GRAY), NEA/MAG (HARRIS AND
HOPKINS)

E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/06/2017
TAGS: PREL PGOV PTER MASS KDEM TS
SUBJECT: SCENESETTER FOR FOREIGN MINISTER ABDALLAH'S VISIT

REF: TUNIS 699

CLASSIFIED BY: AMBASSADOR ROBERT F. GODEC FOR REASONS 1.4 (B) AND (D)

-------
SUMMARY
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1. (C) FOREIGN MINISTER ABDELWAHEB ABDALLAH'S UPCOMING JUNE
11-15 VISIT TO WASHINGTON PRESENTS A RARE OPPORTUNITY FOR THE
USG TO ENGAGE THE HIGHEST LEVELS OF THE GOT, AS OFFICIAL
VISITS TO WASHINGTON ARE INFREQUENT. WHILE ABDALLAH WILL
LIKELY TRY TO EMPHASIZE GENERALITIES ABOUT THE US-TUNISIAN
LONG-STANDING, STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP BASED ON SHARED REGIONAL
OBJECTIVES AND COUNTERTERRORISM COOPERATION, HIS MEETINGS ARE
AN OPPORTUNITY TO PRESS THE GOT FOR TANGIBLE REFORMS AND
ACTION. GIVEN PRESIDENT BEN ALIS MAY 31 COMMENTS TO CODEL
TANNER (REFTEL), US OFFICIALS SHOULD INDICATE THAT THE UNITED
STATES WANTS TO SEE THE RHETORIC EVOLVE INTO GENUINE
POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC REFORM, ESPECIALLY IN THE FACE OF A
GROWING DOMESTIC AND REGIONAL TERRORIST THREAT. THIS VISIT
PRESENTS AN OPPORTUNITY TO INDICATE THE UNITED STATES EXPECTS
MORE FROM THE BILATERAL RELATIONSHIP, PARTICULARLY ON
REGIONAL ISSUES, AND IS READY TO SUPPORT TUNISIA'S POLITICAL,
ECONOMIC AND SECURITY INITIATIVES. SUGGESTED THEMATIC POINTS
FROM WHICH WASHINGTON INTERLOCUTORS MAY WISH TO DRAW ARE
PROVIDED AT PARA 9. END SUMMARY.



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


BACKGROUND


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





2. (C) ABDALLAH, WHO FONDLY RECALLS HIS INITIAL OCTOBER 2005
MEETINGS WITH US OFFICIALS IN WASHINGTON, IS MORE COMFORTABLE
DISCUSSING FOREIGN POLICY (ISRAEL-PALESTINE ISSUES, LIBYA,
IRAN, OR TERRORISM) THAN DEBATING DOMESTIC MATTERS. ABDALLAH
CAN BE CHARISMATIC AND CHARMING IN MEETINGS, DISPLAYING AN
EASY CONFIDENCE THROUGH WHICH HE SEEKS TO GIVE HIS
INTERLOCUTORS THE IMPRESSION THAT HE IS REALLY "CONSULTING"
WITH THEM. WHAT HE SAYS, HOWEVER, RARELY OR BARELY DEPARTS
FROM STANDARD GOT TALKING POINTS -- POINTS ABOUT THE GOT'S
SELF-PROJECTED IMAGE OF TUNISIA AS A MODERN, MODERATE,
RESPONSIBLE PARTNER. HE HAS BEEN KNOWN TO SPEND OVER A HALF
HOUR DELIVERING TEDIOUS OPENING REMARKS ON TUNISIA'S
POLITICAL, SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC SUCCESSES AND MODERATE VIEWS
ON REGIONAL ISSUES. THEY ALSO HAPPEN TO BE POINTS THAT
ABDALLAH HIMSELF LARGELY CRAFTED DURING HIS YEARS AS THE
PRESIDENTIAL ADVISOR ENTRUSTED WITH KEEPING THE DOMESTIC
MEDIA STIFLED AND INTERNATIONAL MEDIA AND NGO CRITICISM OF
TUNISIA VIGOROUSLY CHALLENGED AND PUBLICLY REJECTED. ALMOST
TWO YEARS AFTER BEING NAMED FOREIGN MINISTER, ABDALLAH STILL
EXERTS SIGNIFICANT INFLUENCE AND PERHAPS CONTROL OVER THE
LOCAL MEDIA.



3. (C) DURING HIS JUNE 6 MEETING WITH ABDALLAH, THE
AMBASSADOR STRESSED THAT THE FOREIGN MINISTER SHOULD CONSIDER
WHAT KIND OF CONCRETE CONTRIBUTIONS TUNISIA CAN MAKE TO
SUPPORT US OBJECTIVES IN THE REGION, PARTICULARLY IN SUDAN,
AFGHANISTAN AND WITH THE PALESTINIANS. THE AMBASSADOR ALSO
ENCOURAGED ABDALLAH TO CONSIDER SPECIFIC STEPS TOWARDS
POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC REFORM. ABDALLAH SAID THAT HE WOULD
BE MEETING WITH PRESIDENT ZINE EL ABIDINE BEN ALI ON JUNE 7
TO OBTAIN THE PRESIDENT'S MESSAGE FOR THE VISIT. REGARDING
CONCRETE ACTIONS, ABDALLAH SAID THAT HE WOULD THINK ABOUT
WHAT TUNISIA COULD OFFER. ABDALLAH ADDED THAT HE PLANS TO
INVITE THE SECRETARY TO VISIT TUNISIA, NOTING THAT HE DID NOT
BELIEVE SECRETARY RICE HAD BEEN TO NORTH AFRICA AND THAT THE
MIDDLE EAST INCLUDES MORE THAN THE GULF AND THE LEVANT.



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


REGIONAL ISSUES


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





4. (S) ALTHOUGH TUNISIA IS LIKE-MINDED ON IRAQ, IRAN, THE
ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN SITUATION, AND OTHER REGIONAL ISSUES, THE
GOT HAS DONE RELATIVELY LITTLE TO HELP US POLITICAL AND
MILITARY EFFORTS IN THE REGION. THE TUNISIAN EMBASSY IN IRAQ
REMAINS OPEN AND THE GOT HAS PROVIDED SOME TRAINING FOR GOI
OFFICIALS. HOWEVER, MINISTER OF DEFENSE KAMEL MORJANE
RECENTLY TOLD VISITING DASD THERESA WHELAN AND THE AMBASSADOR
THAT, "THE REGIME CANNOT SURVIVE" IF IT PUT PERSONNEL IN IRAQ
OR AFGHANISTAN. INDEED, REGIME SECURITY IS SO IMPORTANT TO
THE GOT, IT IS NOT CLEAR THE GOT HAS A CLEAR FOREIGN POLICY
OTHER THAN TO "GET ALONG." ABDALLAH'S GENERALITIES SHOULD
NOT BE TAKEN AS INDICATIVE OF ACTIVE GOT SUPPORT FOR US GOALS
IN THE REGION. HE SHOULD BE REMINDED THAT TUNISIA'S
MODERATION DOES NOT HELP US UNLESS ITS VIEWS ARE MADE PUBLIC
AND ITS INFLUENCE USED ACTIVELY IN KEY MEETINGS AND FORA.



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


COUNTERTERRORISM COOPERATION


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





5. (C/NF) TUNISIAN OFFICIALS ARE CLEARLY CONCERNED ABOUT THE
REGIONAL TERRORIST THREAT FOLLOWING THE DISRUPTION OF A
TERRORIST CELL IN DECEMBER 2006/JANUARY 2007. DESPITE THESE
CONCERNS, CIVILIAN AND SECURITY OFFICIALS CONTINUE TO STATE
THAT THE DOMESTIC SITUATION IS UNDER CONTROL. ALTHOUGH THESE
OFFICIALS INFORMED THE AMBASSADOR THAT THE US (AND UK)
EMBASSY AND PERSONNEL WERE AMONG THE GROUPS INTENDED
TARGETS, THE GOT HAS PROVIDED EXTREMELY LIMITED INTELLIGENCE
INFORMATION ABOUT THE INCIDENT. WHILE ABDALLAH IS KNOWN TO
CHARACTERIZE OUR CT RELATIONSHIP AS "EXCELLENT," WASHINGTON
OFFICIALS SHOULD DELIVER A STRONG MESSAGE THAT THE USG WANTS
MORE DETAILS ON THIS INCIDENT AND OTHER SECURITY ISSUES. THE
AMBASSADOR STRESSED TO ABDALLAH IN HIS JUNE 6 MEETING THAT
MORE INFORMATION MUST BE SHARED. ABDALLAH AGREED THAT "THERE
IS NO REASON" FOR TUNISIA NOT TO DO MORE OR TO KEEP ANY
INFORMATION FROM THE UNITED STATES. IF INFORMATION SHARING
IMPROVES, A VARIETY OF US INTELLIGENCE RESOURCES COULD
SUPPORT GOT EFFORTS TO COMBAT THIS THREAT.



6. (C) ON THE MILITARY SIDE, THE MINISTRY OF DEFENSE IS
EXPRESSING CONCERN ABOUT ITS ABILITY TO CONTROL TUNISIA'S
REMOTE BORDERS WITH LIBYA AND ALGERIA. MINISTER OF NATIONAL
DEFENSE KAMEL MORJANE USED A SERIES OF MAY MEETINGS WITH US
OFFICIALS TO PLEA FOR GREATER US FINANCIAL SUPPORT FOR
TUNISIAN ARMED FORCES COUNTERTERRORISM ACTIVITIES. FM
ABDALLAH IS LIKELY TO RAISE THE GOT'S CONCERNS ABOUT FY08
CUTS IN FOREIGN MILITARY FINANCING (FMF) FOR TUNISIA. WHILE
COUNTERTERRORISM COOPERATION WITH TUNISIAN SECURITY OFFICIALS
LEAVES MUCH TO BE DESIRED, THE TUNISIAN MILITARY IS A
HISTORIC US ALLY AND BILATERAL MILITARY COOPERATION IS
EXEMPLARY. INCREASED MILITARY ASSISTANCE COULD HELP THE
TUNISIAN MILITARY EXPAND ITS INTERNATIONAL PEACEKEEPING
EFFORTS, WHICH ARE CURRENTLY HAMPERED BY EQUIPMENT AND
SUPPORT LIMITATIONS. WASHINGTON OFFICIALS SHOULD SEEK TO
IDENTIFY POSSIBILITIES TO FURTHER US MILITARY ASSISTANCE TO
TUNISIA.



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


ECONOMIC ENGAGEMENT


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





7. (C) ALTHOUGH MANY ASPECTS OF OUR BILATERAL RELATIONSHIP
ARE HANDICAPPED BY GOT UNWILLINGNESS TO ENGAGE, IT APPEARS
THERE IS A REAL INTEREST -- FROM THE HIGHEST LEVELS -- IN
INCREASING ECONOMIC TIES. RECENTLY, PRESIDENT BEN ALI,
SENIOR MINISTERS AND PRIVATE BUSINESSMEN HAVE ALL EXPRESSED
AN INTEREST IN EXPANDING TRADE AND INVESTMENT RELATIONS WITH
THE UNITED STATES. ABDALLAH RESPONDED POSITIVELY TO THE
AMBASSADORS JUNE 6 SUGGESTION THAT ABDALLAHS VISIT BE USED
TO PROMOTE ECONOMIC TIES. THE AMBASSADOR NOTED THAT TUNISIA
COULD TAKE ADDITIONAL CONCRETE STEPS TOWARD ECONOMIC
LIBERALIZATION IN ORDER TO ATTRACT MORE US INVESTMENT.



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


POLITICAL REFORM


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





8. (S/NF) IN THE TWO YEARS SINCE THE LAUNCH OF THE PRESIDENT
BUSH'S FREEDOM AGENDA, DESPITE SIGNIFICANT PUBLIC AND PRIVATE
USG EFFORTS, TUNISIA HAS MADE LITTLE TANGIBLE PROGRESS TOWARD
POLITICAL REFORM. PRESIDENT BEN ALI HAS GIVEN SOME
INDICATIONS TO US OFFICIALS THAT SUGGEST HE IS OPEN TO
GREATER POLITICAL LIBERALIZATION, INCLUDING HIS RECENT
COMMENT TO CODEL TANNER THAT HE WANTS TO WEAKEN THE RULING
DEMOCRATIC CONSTITUTIONAL RALLY (RCD) PARTY AND ALLOW THE
OPPOSITION TO STRENGTHEN (REFTEL). FOR NOW, THOUGH, THE GOT
CONTINUES TO CONTROL ALMOST ALL ASPECTS OF POLITICAL LIFE.
ABDALLAH'S VISIT IS A KEY OPPORTUNITY TO BUILD ON PRESIDENT
BEN ALI'S UNDERTAKING BY ENCOURAGING SPECIFIC ACTIONS TO
PROQFREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND ASSOCIATION. FOR EXAMPLE,
TUNISIA SHOULD UNBLOCK INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS WEBSITES
SUCH AS THE TUNISIA-SPECIFIC PORTIONS OF THE AMNESTY
INTERNATIONAL AND HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH SITES. PRESS FREEDOM
SHOULD ALSO BE PROMOTED THROUGH THE LICENSING OF NEW MEDIA.
WHILE ABDALLAH WILL BE QUICK TO ARGUE THAT TUNISIA MUST
UNDERTAKE GRADUAL REFORMS TO PREVENT ISLAMIC EXTREMISTS FROM
GAINING INFLUENCE, HE SHOULD BE REMINDED THAT MODERATE VOICES
MUST HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY TO BE HEARD.



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


SUGGESTED THEMES


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





9. (C) WASHINGTON INTERLOCUTORS MAY WISH TO DRAW ON THE
FOLLOWING POINTS IN THEIR DISCUSSIONS WITH FM ABDALLAH:


-- REGIONAL CONTEXT: WE APPRECIATING THE MODERATING ROLE
THAT TUNISIA PLAYS, BUT WE WOULD LIKE TO SEE MORE CONCRETE
MANIFESTATIONS OF TUNISIAN SUPPORT IN THE REGION.

-- SECURITY COOPERATION: OUR TWO COUNTRIES SHARE COMMON
VALUES, WHICH ARE REFLECTED IN A COMMON STAND AGAINST
TERRORISM AND EXTREMISM. WE WOULD WELCOME INCREASED
COOPERATION ON COUNTERTERRORISM. SPECIFICALLY, WE ARE
SEEKING MORE AND BETTER INFORMATION ABOUT THE DECEMBER
2006/JANUARY 2007 SECURITY INCIDENTS, IN WHICH OUR EMBASSY
AND PERSONNEL WERE REPORTEDLY AMONG THE TARGETS. THE UNITED
STATES IS PREPARED TO DO OUR PART TO HELP COUNTER THE GROWING
REGIONAL THREAT OF TERRORISM.

-- ECONOMIC ENGAGEMENT: TUNISIA DESERVES CREDIT FOR ITS
SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC PROGRESS. WE SHARE YOUR DESIRE TO SEE
INCREASED TRADE AND INVESTMENT. TO ATTRACT GREATER US
INVESTMENT, WE ENCOURAGE TUNISIA TO CONTINUE DOWN THE PATH TO
A MORE OPEN MARKET (E.G., PERMIT FRANCHISING).

-- POLITICAL REFORM: WE ALSO ENCOURAGE THE GOT TO PROMOTE
INCREASED DIALOGUE ON POLITICAL AND SOCIAL ISSUES. TUNISIA
IS READY FOR GREATER DEMOCRATIC FREEDOMS, INCLUDING FREEDOM
OF ASSOCIATION AND FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION. SPECIFICALLY, THE
GOT COULD UNBLOCK SEVERAL INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS WEBSITES
THAT ARE CURRENTLY INACCESSIBLE IN TUNISIA.

-- IF TUNISIA IS PREPARED TO DO MORE ON KEY ISSUES OF CONCERN
TO THE UNITED STATES, E.G., REGIONAL CHALLENGES AND/OR
POLITICAL LIBERALIZATION, WE ARE PREPARED TO LOOK FOR OTHER
WAYS TO DEEPEN OUR ENGAGEMENT.
GODEC