Scene Setter – Your Senior Meeting at the State Department (Part I)

Recent Background: 

Reforms — Your trip to Washington comes on the heels of the successful constitutional reform vote that has received a great deal of attention in the English language press, both online and in hard copy. Most of the coverage has been positive and complimentary of Morocco. That has been especially true when the articles have carried bylines of US journalists. They often contrast Morocco’s achievement with the continuing turmoil and repression elsewhere in the region. Positive commentary has largely pointed to the important ceding of significant executive authorities to the elected head of government, the independence of the judiciary, greater rights for the Amazigh, the strengthening of human rights and gender protections, and the devolution of power to local elected leaders. By and large, the editorial line has been that these are very important steps forward in the democratic evolution of Morocco and an example to the region. 
However, the coverage has not been uniformly congratulatory. Local Moroccan and other Middle East based Arab stringers for major US and other English language media outlets (especially their online editions and especially the British press) continue to provide a critical platform for clearly minor political actors in Morocco and have put the emphasis on a skeptical editorial point of view, even embedded in hard news coverage. Little or no attempt is made to define these critical voices as representing a small minority. Rather, these articles continue to allow radical Islamist views and those of the far left to fly under the false flag of the February 20 “democratic youth movement.” A few more analytical pieces have pointed out this fallacy, but the viewpoint continues albeit less than the positive press overall. 
We believe we are winning the opinion war in the media, but it requires constant and unrelenting attention. We believe that more outreach to the US media is in order. This is where Congress and other opinion leaders get their information and we need to do whatever we can to ensure that a positive story line dominates the coverage. 
Sahara — Your trip also comes on the heels of another process rich, but content poor, meeting of Chris Ross’s periodic UN gathering on the Sahara. We have been disappointed that statements on this issue subsequent to your last visit to Washington seem once again to have fallen back into the hands of State’s bureaucracy. It is interesting to note that in a briefing with academics traveling to Morocco – following a presentation by the Moroccan desk officer – we inquired as to the position offered by her on the WS. The academics were told that the US policy, according to the Desk Officer, favors a sovereignty/autonomy solution. This is the first and only sign that we have seen a public acknowledgement of the US policy on the Sahara, other than from Hillary Clinton or Bill Burns. This does not however alter the concern we have regarding the view that the NEA is resistant to making clear statements on a Sahara policy. 
We were especially surprised by a recent article in Al Jazeera’s English language online edition by Jeremy Keenan from the University of London which took a very critical view of the US “turning a blind eye” to Algerian support for Gaddafi’s regime, calling AFRICOM commander Carter Ham the “one-eyed general.” The article offered very specific and damning evidence of this support and appeared to have likely been well informed by either French or British intelligence and military sources (or both). If this article is accurate, and the verifiable information it cites certainly seems credible, its most damning charge was that the US has conspired with the British and French to cut a deal with Algeria to let Bouteflika off the hook in public if he would agree to cease support for Gaddafi. This has clearly and seriously undercut our efforts to tar the Polisario with sending fighters to Libya. Politics are what they are, and international politics more so, but this shines a new light on why the US was so put out and harshly and personally critical of our effort in MACP to bash Algeria and the Polisario for their support to Gaddafi. This argument was carrying great weight in undercutting the Polisario in Congress and among some media and opinion leaders. We were drawing unwanted and too visible public attention to this problem while they were working behind the scenes to back the Algerians off its support for Gaddafi’s regime. In our view, the State Department should not have the option of pursuing this policy with Algeria without attention to the impact on Moroccan interests in the region. 
Furthermore, we are in receipt of intelligence information that points to the proposition that activity by and support for the Polisario in Europe is on the increase, and they have made inroads in the UK, the Netherlands, and Scandinavian countries. With the upcoming elections in Spain, the report we received also underscores the possibility of electing a Conservative government that will be hostile to Moroccan policy. These developments will only complicate US positions in the Security Council and in Washington. 
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