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Viewing cable 08ALGIERS1327, ALGERIAN MFA WARY ON EVE OF ASAD VISIT

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08ALGIERS1327 2008-12-22 16:04 2011-01-13 05:05 SECRET Embassy Algiers
VZCZCXRO2618
PP RUEHTRO
DE RUEHAS #1327/01 3571642
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
P 221642Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY ALGIERS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6771
INFO RUEHLB/AMEMBASSY BEIRUT 0444
RUEHDM/AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS 1503
RUEHTV/AMEMBASSY TEL AVIV 2074
RUEHRB/AMEMBASSY RABAT 2628
RUEHTU/AMEMBASSY TUNIS 7487
RUEHTRO/AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS 2973
RUEHMD/AMEMBASSY MADRID 9139
RUEHJM/AMCONSUL JERUSALEM 0651
RUEHCL/AMCONSUL CASABLANCA 3612
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 ALGIERS 001327 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/22/2018 
TAGS: PREL PTER SY AF IC LE AG
SUBJECT: ALGERIAN MFA WARY ON EVE OF ASAD VISIT 
 
REF: SECSTATE 133148 
 
Classified By: Ambassador David D. Pearce; reasons 1.4 (b, d). 
 
1. (S) Ambassador delivered reftel demarche December 21 to 
the MFA Director General for Arab Affairs on the eve of 
Syrian President Bashar al-Asad's expected visit.  On foreign 
fighters, DG Abdelhamid Bouzaher said that the flow into Iraq 
had declined in recent years from a 2003-05 peak.  He added 
that many young returning Algerian fighters had been 
"disillusioned" by their experience, not wanting to be used 
merely as suicide bombers.  Ambassador noted Syria was still 
the main route into Iraq and Damascus needed to do more.  On 
Iran, Bouzaher saw Syria's relationship with Iran as less one 
of "strategy and substance" than convenience and temporary 
interest.  Ambassador noted that, over the years, Syria had 
facilitated Iranian access to Lebanon but the Syrian 
government was likely to listen carefully to any concerns 
Algeria might voice.  Ambassador asked that Algeria lend its 
weight to pressing Syria to adopt a more positive approach to 
Lebanon, including the normalization of relations, which was 
important for the security and stability of the entire 
region.  He also raised the need for Arab countries to 
normalize relations with Iraq, rather than leave the 
diplomatic field in Baghdad to Iran. 
 
FOREIGN FIGHTERS "DISILLUSIONED" 
-------------------------------- 
 
2. (S)  In Bouzaher's view, the flow of foreign fighters into 
Iraq has declined markedly in recent years, from a 2003-2005 
peak.  The Ambassador responded that any decline was 
relative, and the transit of foreign fighters through Syria 
was still a problem and the Syrian government needed to do 
more.  Bouzaher stressed the positive Syrian step of opening 
its border to over a million Iraqi refugees, and said he 
believed Syria was today more serious about securing its 
frontier with Iraq.  Although Bouzaher admitted he "was not 
an expert" on the issue, he said that many young Algerian 
fighters returning from Iraq were "disillusioned" by their 
experience, as they did not want to be used merely as suicide 
bombers.  "This is not part of our culture," they felt, 
according to Bouzaher. 
 
3. (S) Bouzaher said that Algeria's ties with Syria had 
deteriorated in recent years over the terrorism issue.  The 
Algerian government had engaged recently with the Syrians on 
economic and commercial issues, but had thus far failed to 
conclude a bilateral security accord.  Bouzaher said that 
Syria had shown signs lately of wanting to break out of its 
isolation and had evinced some good will regarding Iraq and 
Lebanon in particular.  Today, said Bouzaher, Syria has a 
"clear interest" in stable relations with Iraq.  Ambassador 
pressed Bouzaher for specifics, saying he hoped Bouzaher was 
right but Syria needed to demonstrate these intentions in a 
more concrete manner. 
 
INTO THE ARMS OF IRAN 
--------------------- 
 
4. (S) Bouzaher saw the resolution of the Israel-Palestine 
conflict as the "key to the entire region," including all of 
the issues involving Syria.  In the case of Iran, he said, 
solving this problem would rob them of their vision of a 
"divine mission" to reclaim Jerusalem, and therefore, by 
implication, make it easier for Syria to stand against 
Iranian support for Hizballah in Lebanon.  Bouzaher saw 
Syria's relationship with Iran as less one of "strategy and 
substance" than of convenience and temporary interest. 
Ambassador noted that, over the years, Syria had facilitated 
Iranian access to Lebanon but the Syrian government was 
likely to listen carefully to any concerns Algeria might 
voice.  Bouzaher repeated that Syria had been a victim of its 
own isolation, and said that he did not believe it had any 
real substantive interest in close relations with Iran. 
Instead, he said al-Asad wanted to improve his relations with 
the U.S, a desire that "was complicated" by recent 
cross-border U.S. military actions inside Syria. 
 
SHI'A THREAT "FRIGHTENING" 
-------------------------- 
 
5. (S) Ambassador asked that Algeria lend its weight to 
 
ALGIERS 00001327  002 OF 002 
 
 
pressing Syria to adopt a more positive approach to Lebanon, 
including the normalization of relations, which was important 
for the security and stability of the entire region. 
Bouzaher stressed that Algeria had "an Arab nationalist duty" 
to support Lebanon and would continue to do so.  He said 
Algeria has consistently pushed for a full investigation into 
the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri, but 
in the absence of specific proof, was not eager to blame 
Syria outright.  Bouzaher stressed that Algeria's 
relationship with Syria had suffered greatly in the 1990s 
over the terrorism issue, but was now improving.  Bouzaher 
believed that Syria "has intentions to normalize" relations 
with Lebanon, and added that Syria has to realize that the 
situation in Lebanon could be very damaging to Sunni 
interests.  As Sunni Arabs, he said, Algeria found the Shi'a 
in Lebanon "frightening;" it was a situation not at all 
favorable to "our way of seeing things."  Bouzaher said that 
the core issue in Lebanon was the arming of Hizballah, "as 
everyone knows." 
 
WARILY REENGAGING ON IRAQ 
------------------------- 
 
6. (S) The Ambassador stressed that as an influential voice 
in the Arab world, it would help if Algeria was among those 
taking the lead on Arab re-engagement with Iraq.  To not do 
so, he said, was damaging to stability and left the field to 
Iran.  Iraq would endure and Iraqis would remember those who 
supported them in their darker days, much as Algeria 
remembered those who did or did not offer support during the 
1990s civil war.  To this, Bouzaher responded that Algeria 
was still very much scarred by the July 2005 assassination of 
two Algerian diplomats in Baghdad, and that no official 
investigation or condolences had ever come from the Iraqi 
government.  Ambassador said this was an important and 
legitimate concern, one shared by other countries whose 
diplomats had been killed, but it was also important for the 
stability of the region to re-engage Iraq.  Bouzaher 
acknowledged that it was time for Algeria "to clarify its 
relations with Iraq," particularly since Iraqis had supported 
Algeria during its war for independence. 
 
COMMENT 
------- 
 
7. (S) Bouzaher was part of an Algerian business delegation 
led by Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia that visited Damascus in 
October, signing several economic and commercial agreements. 
He confided that in other areas such as security, there had 
been less progress.  He referred to a bilateral draft 
agreement between Algerian and Syrian intelligence and 
security services that had been pending for some time and was 
still not signed, as "our services still have much to clarify 
to make sure we understand" Syrian intentions.  We delivered 
the demarche and non-paper to Bouzaher at a propitious time - 
we left his office at 1545, and he was heading into a meeting 
with Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci at 1600, presumably to 
discuss the imminent visit of al-Asad, among other things. 
PEARCE