THE AMERICAN AGENDA IN NORTH AFRICA
2 mars 2006
On his way back from a whirlwind tour of Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, William Jordan, head of the North Africa desk at the U.S. State Department, outlined his government’s « priorities » for the region at IFRI in Paris on Feb. 28. Revealingly, Jordan said from the outset that Algeria was « in the process of becoming the leader in the region » and that its « financial capacity » made it Washington’s most important partner in North Africa. That partnership involved oil, of course, but also ever-growing cooperation in the security sphere (sale of non-lethal weapons), to the displeasure of Morocco.
Jordan said Washington would carefully monitor legislative elections in Morocco in 2007, a ballot viewed by the State Department « as a litmus test of Morocco’s progress towards true democratisation. » He added that the U.S. had « some reservations » about the 2002/03 elections and, in general, « on the application of certain aspects of legislation on freedom of speech. » Indeed, the U.S., which has just declared Morocco eligible for inclusion in the Millennium Challenge Account, is going to made assistance conditional on an improvement in the human rights situation. With regards the Western Sahara issue, he said Washington was working on a new framework in which to resolve a conflict that was standing in the way of the formation of a North Africa-wide market and thus « limits American investment opportunities. » The U.S. official didn’t mince his words concerning Tunisia. « It’s very difficult to work with the Tunisians….We are deeply concerned over the lock-down of the political system, curbs on free speech and continual arrest of dissidents, » Jordan stated. However, he added Washington didn’t want to break its ties with Tunis and was counting on « coordinated » reprimands by the US and EU to bring about change. As for Libya, Jordan declared that Washington was waiting for the case of the Bulgarian nurses to be resolved before striking Libya off the list of countries sponsoring terrorism. But that hasn’t stopped executives from Texas oil companies from crowding luxury hotels in Tripoli with contracts in hand.