Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
El Mouradia Palace, Official Residence
PRESIDENT TEBBOUNE: (Via translation) Welcome, and I hope this trip will allow better rapprochement than what we already have. Algerian-American meetings always had a certain intensity or weight – they were always good and understanding because there are so many similarities, enormous similarities among them, our liberation struggle. The independence day for our nations is only separated by a few hours. For you it is the fourth of July while for us it is the fifth of July.
American Democracy cannot be disputed by anyone: a people built on democracy. We are trying to build our own democracy with our own values and our own history that come together, democracy being the fact that institutions are truly representative of a people. In matters of arbitration of the United States, in all international disputes, we are with it. We may be dreamers, but we dream of a more balanced world, of a world where freedoms are better defended. We do our best with our means and in our environment – sometimes we are understood; sometimes we are not.
This is our environment: we are surrounded by countries that are not very similar to us with the exception of Tunisia. That’s why we do have very close relations with Tunisia because we have similarities in many areas. Otherwise, all our borders are in flames: destabilized Libya; after Libya, of course there is the entire Sahel like Chad, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger; and even Mauritania is not that strong. And next door we have the Moroccan Kingdom where our relations have always witnessed ups and downs since our independence. It is not recent; it is not due to the Western Sahara issue.
There are two mindsets, two ways of seeing things. We respect all people – we respect people’s borders while they can expand. You know that no one has forgotten, no Algerian will forget, that Morocco attacked us in 1963. At that time we didn’t have even a regular army, and they attacked with special forces, helicopters, and airplanes. We had 850 casualties. They aimed to take a part of our territory. Later on they refused to acknowledge the independence of Mauritania since 1960, when Mauritania was a member of the United Nations and had its own ambassadors, et cetera. But Morocco had territorial claims over all Mauritania. They had to wait until 1972 when the Moroccan king accepted to shake hands with the Mauritanian president whom he recognized after 12 years of independence.
During those 12 years, the Moroccan Government had a minister of Mauritanian territories. Afterwards was the famous story of the Western Sahara. What they said is completely in contradiction with what they signed. Maybe our mistake is the consistency in managing this question, even before 1975. But with the tensions that exist between us, we are not what they say. We definitely have no intentions in Western Sahara. It is their problem. They always wanted to destabilize Algeria. There are other issues – they always wanted to destabilize Algeria and I don’t know the reason for that, although we have always protected Morocco. We have never been careful about our relationships – however, it is not normal that within 50 years of independence the borders stay closed for 40 years.
The Western Sahara issue started in 1975 and afterwards. I think that the foreign minister has many documents, signed by the King of Morocco Hassan II – may his soul rest in peace – who insisted on the self-determination of the Western Sahara. Our position is towards Western Sahara – not towards Morocco – and everyone knows that this has always been our approach – like towards Timor-Leste, for example, we ended up convincing our Indonesian friends with whom we have a strong relationship that they had to release Timor-Leste and grant them independence, and we remained very close despite that. Same situation with the Comoros Islands.
All the Algerian diplomatic efforts were made to destroy apartheid. We also took advantage of our presidency of the UN General Assembly to exclude South Africa from all the international organizations. When Nelson Mandela was released from prison and apartheid fell, Algeria created a strong alliance between Pretoria and Algiers. So this is not new for us. This is not about Western Sahara only – this has always been our position approach.
We have always treated the Western Sahara issue and the Palestinian issue equally. Regarding the Palestinian issue, the Algerian position remains unchanged. A decision has been taken at the Arab League to make peace with Israel, and that Israel recognizes the state of Palestine, and this is what we are following at the moment. So it’s peace among all territories, but we have nothing against them – the only problem that we have is Palestine and absolutely nothing else.
Here are some points about Libya. We’re against the presence of all mercenaries, whoever they are. We don’t accept them anywhere near our borders. We did everything so our Libyan brothers and sisters would have the chance to express themselves, and it’s been two years now that we’ve been battling for these elections in Libya, because we came to the conclusion that the ones who have been elected represent no one. Every time there is an election, they only represent themselves. So we do it again and again and again until the last circle between Dabaiba and the one who have been named by the so-called National Assembly, and it will continue. It will continue because none of them are representatives.
The worst part is that in Libya there are forces who are getting into wars by proxy, and when we’re facing such strong adversaries, it’s not up to Libyans to kick them out. When I met with Libya in Berlin, we agreed that all countries involved in the Libyan case should agree on never let either guns or mercenaries inside the country. We should disarm them. Two months later there was 3,000 tons of arms, which means that the solution is elsewhere. In my view, it can be through the UN.
We have the presence of Wagner, the presence of Syrians who are our brothers and sisters, Turkish people, people from Sudan, the mobilized from Chad, and there are three or four countries getting into war in Libya, a war that is not the Libyans’ and has nothing to do with them. That’s why we said that if Libya wants to be built again democratically, we need elections from scratch. We can help them organize it. What I am saying is very feasible – we only need the political will to do it. We will end up with an elected assembly, and then everybody can help rebuilding Libya with an assembly, the government, and the president. Those who have hidden agendas to replace the late former president are the ones who would like to solve the issue from the top by designating a president. Elect a president so that he can do what he wants and move towards this or that. This is not democracy. That’s for the Libyan problem.
For the Chadian problem, Chad has been used for three decades and it is not recent. They were used by the Libyans. Today they have created forces capable of fighting and capable of destabilizing, which makes Nigeria very fragile, and even more fragile Burkina Faso and Mali.
Mr. Secretary, I would like to speak to you with an open heart. I could never understand how we arrived at this situation. It all added up with the fall of Libya and the flow of weapons into the Sahel. Everyone could see what happened. No one stopped it until there was Barkhane to prevent Bamako from being taken by terrorists. I can talk about the Malian problem because it is the problem that is the closest to us, close even since our independence in 1962. We have never stopped interceding and intervening between the Malian tribes, as it is our border residents. There are a lot of Malians who have Algerian origin, and there are a lot of Algerians who have Malian origins, which means that we intervene every time to calm the tribal quarrels, from Modibo Keita until today.
Unfortunately, there was a lot of interference, which did not allow us to act as you arrive at the Algiers agreements which settled the self-contradictory problems between northern Mali and southern Mali. There was interference and we could not implement it, and it has not yet been implemented, and they are doing everything so that it will never be implemented. They are changing the data. All the signatories have come to Algiers so far, and they are in contact with Algiers, and they are keen on the implementation of this agreement which is not the opinion of the current Malian prime minister, appointed by the people, who does not recognize it. He is even against it, he says and writes, and this is where we are at.
There were misunderstandings with our French friends, and we never wanted to intervene. There is mutual aid in the field of security, and we have always said that force aims to establish peace not to seek peace – once peace has returned it must be reinforced with force, but in the meantime we must look elsewhere. A military presence in such a large Sahara and with this multiplicity of ethnic problems can only be used as an air call for terrorism in one form or another. We also suffered what we have suffered. They took our diplomats away from us and killed two of them. We don’t even know where they are buried. This is the price we have paid and we continue to pay for Mali and for the unification of Mali, and there is certainty that will never change for us. It is the territorial unity of Mali, the people of Mali. We will try to ensure that we come back with more understanding of this problem.
This is not a problem of geopolitical powers. What we want is that our borders be calm and what we spend currently to protect our borders, we would like to use for the development of our youth and for the development of our territory. We don’t need that many weapons and this is meant to defend ourselves. We have a defensive military theory. We have never had a theory of attack or of going elsewhere.
On top of this, we have to deal with our domestic problems. During my presidential campaign I was very clear. It is rare that a candidate for the presidential election spells out his platform, and I am committed to what I wrote. We say that promises are only valid for those who believe in them – I wrote them, and we are pursuing them. It’s a very young country, and I have worked – and I will continue to work – until the end of my term to empower more youth, to hand over power to the youth. I eliminated everything distorting the elections at home, money, cheating et cetera.
The elections that we had, including the presidential elections, legislative and local ones, we gained one thing. For the first time, opposition or not, no one said that the election was rigged. This is already a big benefit for a third-world country. So we could introduce a lot of youth into the local assembly so that they learn how to legislate and how politics works. We are doing it and we also did it for local elections – we encouraged a lot of youth to run for the management of local collectivities and wilaya assemblies.
We have set up the civil society observatory. We have been talking about it for four decades now. It is there; it has even been constitutionalized. We are in full preparations for the national council and the youth superior council, which will practically be a youth parliament to discuss what concerns them. On the economic plan, we fight with all the necessary energy against corruption and everything dirtying our country and which has diverted the country’s money, whereas it could have moved towards the people and towards the development of this country. We continue to fight like that.
In terms of investment we are preparing maybe for having the investment code in maybe a month or a month and a half. I have given instructions that this code will be valid for 10 years. For 10 years we will not have the right to touch a comma, to free up foreign investment and even domestic investment as much as possible. Put all the necessary barriers so that we move away definitely of everything that was done by the oligarchy who left, which linked to the Russian mafia, Italian mafia, and every mafia. They embezzled all the money from the country; we try to benefit the youth.
The vision is that this young country must be supported by young people both politically and economically, and that is why we favor startups, and we have a very young minister who is 26 years old and is in charge of startups and doing a great job. We can feel that there is a movement of startups among young people and younger persons. We are here for the small and micro companies, and we are investing in them more than ever. We are very credible because we have financial resources to transfer donations for companies. It doesn’t bother us at all.
The economic management of the country that we are trying to strengthen daily today in Africa and the whole Maghreb – we are the only county that is dynamic in fighting against corruption, and we take responsibility in every political action. We are the only country that is going to have a big project structuring the country. The first project is agricultural. With a very vast country we can help Africa in terms of providing grains. We can do it. It is technically feasible to achieve production of 30 million tons. We need 9 million tons and can export 21 million tons to Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt without facing any issues.
In terms of cattle, we are facing a deficiency when it comes to milk material. We are importing milk powder and we reproduce it here mixed with water. In terms of transport, currently we are establishing an Algerian naval and air fleet. Until now we are having the half of terrestre that we can not access. We need to have access everywhere now.
In terms of railway transport, it is one of the basis of my programs to have an Algerian port to transport shipments by railways to Mali and Niger. We have worked on this with our own mains. Currently we are in Béchar having a railways, and it is located in 500 kilometers away from Algiers in the southeast. And we still have to each Adrar – approximately 500 to 600 kilometers from Adrar. We will go straight to Mali from Bordj Bardji Mokhtar.
There is a company named Mer Nijer that will link Béchar by train, then Mali and Niger by trucks. Generally, it is successful, and Algeria can make an impact.
The floor is all yours.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: (Via translation) Mr. President, thank you for this detailed and interesting conversation. I had the chance to meet with my friend the minister, and I’m glad to be back to Algeria to strengthen the ties between our countries by working on security and common economic opportunities such as investments and trades between the countries. I believe it will make progress in investing thanks to young businesspeople that need to be built up.
(In English) But in any event, it is wonderful to be back in Algeria after last being here in 2016. Thank you for sharing this wonderful tour of the region, the world, and our relationship. Thank you.