Wednesday, December 8, 2010

US ambasassor to Honduras knew coup against Zelaya was illegal but supported it anyway

December , 2010 -- US ambasassor to Honduras knew coup against Zelaya was illegal but supported it anyway

On July 6, 2009, WMR reported on the involvement of the Obama administration and its ambassdor to Honduras, Hugo Llorens, a Bush holdover, in the coup against Honduran President Manuel Zelaya. In the following cable, dated July 24, 2009, Llorens admitted that the coup that he supported was illegal and that the present president, Porfirio Lobo, should have been ineligible to serve as president for ten years:


DE RUEHTG #0645/01 2050023
O 240023Z JUL 09




E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/23/2019


Classified By: Ambassador Hugo Llorens, reasons 1.4 (b and d)

1. (C) Summary: Post has attempted to clarify some of the
legal and constitutional issues surrounding the June 28
forced removal of President Manuel "Mel" Zelaya. The
Embassy perspective is that there is no doubt that the
military, Supreme Court and National Congress conspired
on June 28 in what constituted an illegal and
unconstitutional coup against the Executive Branch, while
accepting that there may be a prima facie case that Zelaya
have committed illegalities and may have even violated the
constitution. There is equally no doubt from our perspective
that Roberto Micheletti's assumption of power was
illegitimate. Nevertheless, it is also evident that the
constitution itself may be deficient in terms of providing
clear procedures for dealing with alleged illegal acts by
the President and resolving conflicts between the branches
of government. End summary.

2. (U) Since the June 28 removal and expulsion of President
Zelaya by the Honduran armed forces, the Embassy has
consulted Honduran legal experts (one cannot find a fully
unbiased professional legal opinion in Honduras in the
current politically charged atmosphere) and reviewed the
text of the Honduran Constitution and its laws to develop a
better understanding of the arguments being parlayed by the
coup's supporters and opponents.

Arguments of the Coup Defenders

3. (SBU) Defenders of the June 28 coup have offered some
combination of the following, often ambiguous, arguments to
assert it's legality:

-- Zelaya had broken the law (alleged but not proven);

-- Zelaya resigned (a clear fabrication);

-- Zelaya intended to extend his term in office

-- Had he been allowed to proceed with his June 28
constitutional reform opinion poll, Zelaya would have
dissolved Congress the following day and convened a
constituent assembly (supposition);

-- Zelaya had to be removed from the country to prevent a

-- Congress "unanimously" (or in some versions by a 123-5
vote) deposed Zelaya; (after the fact and under the cloak
of secrecy); and

-- Zelaya "automatically" ceased to be president the moment
he suggested modifying the constitutional prohibition on
presidential reelection.

4. (C) In our view, none of the above arguments has any
substantive validity under the Honduran constitution. Some
are outright false. Others are mere supposition or ex-post
rationalizations of a patently illegal act. Essentially:

-- the military had no authority to remove Zelaya from the

-- Congress has no constitutional authority to remove a
Honduran president;

-- Congress and the judiciary removed Zelaya on the basis
of a hasty, ad-hoc, extralegal, secret, 48-hour process;

-- the purported "resignation" letter was a fabrication and
was not even the basis for Congress's action of June 28;

-- Zelaya's arrest and forced removal from the country
violated multiple constitutional guarantees, including the
prohibition on expatriation, presumption of innocence and
right to due process.

Impeachment under the Honduran Constitution

5. (U) Under the Honduran Constitution as currently
written, the President may be removed only on the basis of
death, resignation or incapacitation. Only the Supreme
Court may determine that a President has been
"incapacitated" on the basis of committing a crime.

6. (U) There is no explicit impeachment procedure in the
1982 Honduran Constitution. Originally, Article 205-15
stated that Congress had the competence to determine
whether "cause" existed against the President, but it did
not stipulate on what grounds or under what procedure.
Article 319-2 stated that the Supreme Court would "hear"
cases of official or common crimes committed by high-level
officials, upon a finding of cause by the Congress. This
implied a vague two-step executive impeachment process
involving the other two branches of government, although
without specific criteria or procedures. However, Article
205 was abrogated in 2003, and the corresponding provision
of Article 319 (renumbered 313) was revised to state only
that the Supreme Court would hear "processes initiated"
against high officials. Thus, it appears that under the
Constitution as currently written, removal of a president
or a government official is an entirely judicial matter.

7. (U) Respected legal opinion confirms that the removal of
a president is a judicial matter. According to a 2006 book
by respected legal scholar Enrique Flores Valeriano -- late
father of Zelaya's Minister of the Presidency, Enrique
Flores Lanza -- Article 112 of the Law of Constitutional
Justice indicates that if any government official is found
to be in violation of the Constitution, that person should
be removed from office immediately with the ultimate
authority on matters of Constitutionality being the Supreme

8. (U) Many legal experts have also confirmed to us that
the Honduran process for impeaching a President or other
senior-level officials is a judicial procedure. They
assert that under Honduran law the process consists of formal
criminal charges being filed by the Attorney General
against the accused with the Supreme Court. The Supreme
Court could accept or reject the charges. If the Court
moved to indict, it would assign a Supreme Court
magistrate, or a panel of magistrates to investigate the
matter, and oversee the trial. The trial process is open and
transparent and the defendant would be given a full right
of self-defense. If convicted in the impeachment trial,
the magistrates have authority to remove the President or
senior official. Once the President is removed, then the
constitutional succession would follow. In this case, if a
President is legally charged, convicted, and removed, his
successor is the Vice President or what is termed the
Presidential Designate. In the current situation in
Honduras, since the Vice President, Elvin Santos, resigned
last December in order to be able to run as the Liberal
Party Presidential candidate, President Zelaya's successor
would be Congress President Roberto Micheletti.
Unfortunately, the President was never tried, or
convicted, or was legally removed from office to allow a
legal succession.

The Legal Case Against Zelaya

9. (C) Zelaya's opponents allege that he violated the
Constitution on numerous grounds, some of which appear on
their face to be valid, others not:

-- Refusing to submit a budget to the Congress: The
Constitution is unambiguous that the Executive shall submit
a proposed budget to Congress by September 15 each year
(Art. 367), that Congress shall approve the budget (Art.
366) and that no obligations or payments may be effectuated
except on the basis of an approved budget (Art. 364);

-- Refusing to fund the Congress: Article 212 states that
the Treasury shall apportion quarterly the funds needed for
the operation of the Congress;

-- Proposing an illegal constitutional referendum: The
Constitution may be amended only through two-thirds vote of
the Congress in two consecutive sessions (Art. 373 and
375); a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution,
as Zelaya promoted, is therefore unconstitutional; however,
it is not clear that proposing a constituent assembly in
itself violates the constitution, only that any changes
ensuing from that assembly would be invalid;

-- Defying the judgment of a competent court: Zelaya
insisted on pushing ahead with his constitutional reform
opinion poll after both a first-instance court and an
appeals court ordered him to suspend those efforts;
however, while he clearly intended to follow through with
the poll, he never actually did it;

-- Proposing to reform unreformable articles: Since
Zelaya's proposed constituent assembly would have unlimited
powers to rewrite the constitution, it violated Article
374, which makes certain articles unamendable; once again,
though, Zelaya never actually attempted to change the
so-called "carved in stone" articles; it was only assumed
he intended to;

-- Dismissing the armed forces chief: The Supreme Court's
Constitutional Hall ruled June 25 that Zelaya was in
violation of the Constitution for dismissing Defense Chief
Vasquez Velasquez; the Constitution (Art. 280) states that
the President may freely name or remove the chief of the
armed forces; but the court ruled that since Zelaya fired
him for refusing to carry out a poll the court had ruled
illegal, the firing was illegal.

10. (C) Although a case could well have been made against
Zelaya for a number of the above alleged constitutional
violations, there was never any formal, public weighing of
the evidence nor any semblance of due process.

The Article 239 Cannard

11. (U) Article 239, which coup supporters began citing
after the fact to justify Zelaya's removal (it is nowhere
mentioned in the voluminous judicial dossier against
Zelaya), states that any official proposing to reform the
constitutional prohibition against reelection of the
president shall immediately cease to carry out their
functions and be ineligible to hold public office for 10
years. Coup defenders have asserted that Zelaya therefore
automatically ceased to be President when he proposed a
constituent assembly to rewrite the Constitution.

12. (C) Post's analysis indicates the Article 239 argument
is flawed on multiple grounds:

-- Although it was widely assumed that Zelaya's reason for
seeking to convoke a constituent assembly was to amend the
constitution to allow for reelection, we are not aware
that he ever actually stated so publicly;

-- Article 239 does not stipulate who determines whether it
has been violated or how, but it is reasonable to assume
that it does not abrogate other guarantees of due process
and the presumption of innocence;

-- Article 94 states that no penalty shall be imposed
without the accused having been heard and found guilty in a
competent court;

-- Many other Honduran officials, including presidents,
going back to the first elected government under the 1982
Constitution, have proposed allowing presidential
reelection, and they were never deemed to have been
automatically removed from their positions as a result.

13. (C) It further warrants mention that Micheletti himself
should be forced to resign following the logic of the 239
argument, since as President of Congress he considered
legislation to have a fourth ballot box ("cuarta urna") at
the November elections to seek voter approval for a
constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution. Any
member of Congress who discussed the proposal should also
be required to resign, and National Party presidential
candidate Pepe Lobo, who endorsed the idea, should be
ineligible to hold public office for 10 years.

--------------------------------------------- -
Forced Removal by Military was Clearly Illegal
--------------------------------------------- -

14. (C) Regardless of the merits of Zelaya's alleged
constitutional violations, it is clear from even a cursory
reading that his removal by military means was illegal, and
even the most zealous of coup defenders have been unable to
make convincing arguments to bridge the intellectual gulf
between "Zelaya broke the law" to "therefore, he was packed
off to Costa Rica by the military without a trial."

-- Although coup supporters allege the court issued an
arrest warrant for Zelaya for disobeying its order to
desist from the opinion poll, the warrant, made public days
later, was for him to be arrested and brought before the
competent authority, not removed from the county;

-- Even if the court had ordered Zelaya to be removed from
the country, that order would have been unconstitutional;
Article 81 states that all Hondurans have the right to
remain in the national territory, subject to certain narrow
exceptions spelled out in Article 187, which may be invoked
only by the President of the Republic with the agreement of
the Council of Ministers; Article 102 states that no
Honduran may be expatriated;

-- The armed forces have no/no competency to execute
judicial orders; originally, Article 272 said the armed
forces had the responsibility to "maintain peace, public
order and the 'dominion' of the constitution," but that
language was excised in 1998; under the current text, only
the police are authorized to uphold the law and execute
court orders (Art. 293);

-- Accounts of Zelaya's abduction by the military indicate
he was never legally "served" with a warrant; the soldiers
forced their way in by shooting out the locks and
essentially kidnapped the President.

15. (U) The Armed Forces' ranking legal advisor, Col.
Herberth Bayardo Inestroza, acknowledged in an interview
published in the Honduran press July 5 that the Honduran
Armed Forces had broken the law in removing Zelaya from the
country. That same day it was reported that the Public
Ministry was investigating the actions of the Armed Forces
in arresting and deporting Zelaya June 28 and that the
Supreme Court had asked the Armed Forces to explain the
circumstances that motivated his forcible exile.

16. (C) As reported reftel, the legal adviser to the
Supreme Court told Poloff that at least some justices on
the Court consider Zelaya's arrest and deportation by the
military to have been illegal.

Congress Had no Authority to Remove Zelaya

17. (C) As explained above, the Constitution as amended in
2003 apparently gives sole authority for removing a
president to the judiciary. The Congressional action of
June 28 has been reported in some media as acceptance of
Zelaya's resignation, based on a bogus resignation letter
dated June 25 that surfaced after the coup. However, the
June 28 Congressional resolution makes no mention of the
letter, nor does it state that Congress was accepting
Zelaya's resignation. It says Congress "disapproves" of
Zelaya's conduct and therefore "separates" him from the
office of President -- a constitutional authority Congress
does not have. Furthermore, a source in the Congressional
leadership told us that a quorum was not present when the
resolution was adopted, rendering it invalid. There was no
recorded vote, nor a request for the "yeas" and "nays."

18. (C) In sum, for a constitutional succession from Zelaya
to Micheletti to occur would require one of several

Zelaya's resignation, his death, or permanent medical
incapacitation (as determined by judicial and medical
authorities), or as discussed previously, his formal criminal
conviction and removal from office. In the absence of any of
these conditions and since Congress lacked the legal
authority to remove Zelaya, the actions of June 28 can only
be considered a coup d'etat by the legislative branch, with
the support of the judicial branch and the military, against
the executive branch. It bears mentioning that, whereas the
resolution adopted June 28 refers only to Zelaya, its effect
was to remove the entire executive branch. Both of these
actions clearly exceeded Congress's authority.


19. (C) The analysis of the Constitution sheds some
interesting light on the events of June 28. The Honduran
establishment confronted a dilemma: near unanimity among
the institutions of the state and the political class that
Zelaya had abused his powers in violation of the
Constitution, but with some ambiguity what to do about it.
Faced with that lack of clarity, the military and/or
whoever ordered the coup fell back on what they knew -- the
way Honduran presidents were removed in the past: a bogus
resignation letter and a one-way ticket to a neighboring
country. No matter what the merits of the case against
Zelaya, his forced removal by the military was clearly
illegal, and Micheletti's ascendance as "interim president"
was totally illegitimate.

20. (C) Nonetheless, the very Constitutional uncertainty
that presented the political class with this dilemma may
provide the seeds for a solution. The coup's most ardent
legal defenders have been unable to make the intellectual
leap from their arguments regarding Zelaya's alleged crimes
to how those allegations justified dragging him out of his
bed in the night and flying him to Costa Rica. That the
Attorney General's office and the Supreme Court now
reportedly question the legality of that final step is
encouraging and may provide a face-saving "out" for the two
opposing sides in the current standoff. End Comment.

Lebanon's Al Akhbar newspaper has released State Department cables not previously released by Wikileaks. The Wikileaks saga has grown more mysterious. Two examples of the Lebanese paper's cable haul follows:

ClassificationSECRET//NOFORN Header

DE RUEHRB #0679/01 2181914
P 061914Z AUG 09
S E C R E T RABAT 000679



E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/06/2019

REF: A. 08 RABAT 0311 (NOTAL)
B. 08 RABAT 0178 (NOTAL)
C. 08 RABAT 0222 (NOTAL)

Classified By: CDA Robert P. Jackson for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (C) Summary: On July 28, a Sale court sentenced
Moroccan-Belgian Abdelkader Belleraj to life in prison
(instead of the death penalty requested by prosecutors) for
running an international terrorist network. The 34 other
defendants on trial with Belleraj received sentences ranging
from one to 30 years. While Belleraj and some of his
associates undoubtedly had links to terrorism, the link is
much less clear for six Islamist politicians, who received
sentences ranging from two to 25 years. These six
politicians have come to be known in the public and the press
as "political detainees" because of allegations that they
were arrested for their political affiliation rather than any
real connection to terrorist acts. Human rights activists
monitoring this case have condemned the trial and the
verdict. A family member of one of the politicians sentenced
to 20 years called the trial a "farce" and wondered, in the
context of celebrations of King Mohammed VI's ten years of
rule, "How can this be possible in the new Morocco?" End


2. (C) In February 2008, Minister of the Interior Chakib
Benmoussa publicly announced the dismantling of a dangerous
terrorist network, masterminded by Moroccan-Belgian
Abdelkader Belleraj. Belleraj was arrested for possessing an
arsenal of firearms, allegedly to be used to assassinate
Moroccan ministers, members of the military, and Jewish
citizens. He is suspected of having committed at least six
assassinations in Europe, as well as conducting arms
trafficking, money laundering, robberies and other crimes
(Ref A). The 34 other men arrested in connection with the
network were charged with crimes such as "disturbing the
national security of the State" and "conspiracy to plot and
carry out terrorist acts," the highest crimes under Moroccan
terrorism laws.

The Six Politicians

3. (C) While there is little doubt that Belleraj and some of
his associates have committed grave crimes, the public and
media have labeled six of the defendants "political
detainees" because of allegations that they were arrested for
their political affiliation rather than for having any real
connection to terrorist actions or intentions. While the
Embassy and other diplomatic missions do not dispute the
prima facie threat from Belleraj, who has a long history of
relations with Islamic radicals from Ayatollah Khomeini to
Osama bin Laden, there appears to be little evidence that the
six politicians had any involvement in planning terrorist
acts. Nevertheless, the GOM persisted in trying all of the
accused together under the anti-terrorism laws enacted after
the May 2003 suicide attacks in Casablanca, dismissing
repeated attempts by lawyers to separate the trials of the
six from the larger group. As a result, the politicians were
charged, like the other members of the group, with
involvement in terrorist activity, including plotting against
the regime, being a member of an armed group with the
objective of destabilizing the nation, and threatening public
safety -- among the most severe crimes under Morocco's
terrorism laws.

4. (U) Five of the politicians affiliated with
Islamist-inspired political parties at the time of their
arrest were sentenced to 20 and 25 years in prison.
Maelainin Laabadla, a Sahrawi member of the national council
of the Islamist-inspired Party of Justice and Development
(PJD), headed the PJD's commission on the Western Sahara;
Mustafa Moatassim served as Secretary General of the
Civilized Alternative (Al Badil Al Hadari), a small,
Islamist-inspired political party which was disbanded two
days after his arrest; Mohamed Marouani and Amine Regala had
been, respectively, the Secretary General and party
spokesperson of the unauthorized party of the Nation (Al
Oumma), an Islamist organization that had been seeking party
status; and Abdelhafid Sriti worked as a television

correspondent for Hezbollah's Al Manar.

5. (SBU) The sixth politician, Hamid Najibi, a member of the
national council of the Unified Socialist Party (PSU), and
the only politician not affiliated with an Islamist party,
received a suspended sentence of two years. International
reaction to the heavy sentences of the politicians has been
mostly shock, especially given the skepticism increasingly
voiced by the press and public regarding the case.

Political Links to Belleraj

6. (C) In the early 1990's, under the reign of King Hassan
II, at least four of the six politicians belonged to an
organization called Islamic Choice, an Islamic cultural and
political organization. For ideological reasons, Islamic
Choice eventually dissolved and then split into two smaller
Islamist political parties, the Civilized Alternative and the
Nation. According to Moroccan government officials, Belleraj
and his co-conspirators hoped to use these parties as the
foundation of a new political wing of their network, and
then, under the guise of political activity, use them to
destabilize Morocco (Ref B).

7. (C) At the time of the arrests, the Civilized Alternative
had been formally recognized by the GOM, and, according to
Sidi Ali Maelainin, the brother of Mr. Laabadla, had been
encouraged as an alternative to the Islamist-inspired PJD,
until the terrorist network was uncovered. The Nation had
applied for and was awaiting approval as a political
organization at the time of the arrests in February 2008.
Because it had not yet received an official refusal, it was
on the verge of becoming a party by default, Maelainin said.
He speculated that the GOM opposed the recognition of the
Nation because it could open the way for Sheik Yassine's
Islamist Justice and Good Works Organization (al-Adl wa
al-Ihsan or AWI) to enter politics -- a move strongly opposed
by the Palace.

A Message to the PJD

8. (C) Relatives of the politicians, and increasingly the
press, suggest that the arrest of the six political
defendants was designed to deter the proliferation of
Islamist politicians and political parties, rather than
terrorist acts. As reported, shortly after the arrests of
the six politicians, even the PJD acknowledged that the
arrests may have been intended as a message to stay in line
(Ref C). The PJD has denounced the verdicts against the
politicians, suggesting that such punishments evoke the
authoritarian reign of Hassan II and the &Years of Lead.8

9. (C) According to Abdelaziz Nouyidi, a prominent human
rights attorney and member of the defense team, the arrest
and trial of Islamist political figures was timed to send a
clear message to the political parties in the lead up to the
June 2009 local elections. "The Palace wanted to remind the
Islamists to stay within the bounds established by the King,"
he said, continuing that an alliance between the PJD and the
left would not be welcome. Nouyidi speculated that the
inclusion among the defendants of Hamid Najibi of the Unified
Socialist Party signaled the Palace's displeasure at the
prospect of such an alliance.

Evidence and Irregularities

10. (C) According to human rights NGOs, defense attorneys
and European diplomats familiar with the case, the state's
evidence against all 35 of the accused consisted of the
defendants' statements to the police in which they implicate
themselves and others, and two seizures of weapons which were
allegedly intended to be used to conduct assassinations and
other terrorist acts. The defendants initially affirmed
their statements before a preliminary judge, but then
retracted them before the trial judge, saying they had been
obtained under duress or had been altered.

11. (S/NF) The judge's written decision on the case has not
yet been made available, and it is, therefore, not clear
what, if any, other evidence the GOM may have against the
accused. The Moroccan Government provided to the Regional

Affairs Office photographs of the seized weapons which
included guns, ammunition, silencers, and balaclavas.
Despite repeated requests, the GOM did not provide
satisfactory evidence to the Mission of a connection between
the politicians and the terrorist network. Daniel Bernard,
Belgian Legal Advisor to the Government of Morocco, who has
closely followed this case, speculated, "Maybe there is
something behind the accusations" of the six politicians, but
if so, the Moroccan Government has not divulged it to anyone.

12. (C) Calling the trial and prosecution of his brother "a
farce," Sidi Ali Maelainin outlined for PolOff other
irregularities in the case. The judge had repeatedly refused
to allow the defense access to files, to call witnesses or to
introduce evidence, he said, accusations confirmed by
Bernard. In addition, nearly all the defendants alleged that
their statements had been altered by the police. The Charge
raised these concerns in his June 24 meeting with Human
Rights Council Chairman Ahmed Herzenni, who acknowledged the
irregularities and promised to review the trial following
delivery of the verdict (Ref D).

No Fair Trial

13. (C) Calling the trial "pre-cooked," Johan Jacobs,
Counselor at the Belgian Embassy, said there is "no doubt"
the trial was unfair. Not a single person had been
acquitted, he observed, an unlikely outcome given the large
number of defendants. He also questioned how an impartial
judge could reach a verdict and determine sentences for 35
different individuals less than 12 hours after the closing
arguments. He told PolOff that some of the evidence used in
the trial had been provided by Belgium and was written in
French and Dutch. Even though the evidence provided by
Brussels was accurate and, in some cases damning, Jacobs
wondered how the trial could be fair if neither the defense
nor the prosecution could understand it. When the defense
requested to have the files translated into Arabic, the court
ruled that only parts of the files could be translated,
orally, during court proceedings. This is a peculiar way of
honoring a defendant's right to know the evidence against
him, he said, adding, "Some of these guys have real proof
against them, but that does not change the fact that the
trial was unfair." Sidi Ali Maelainin called the lack of a
fair trial "frightening." In the context of national
celebration of the reforms initiated by King Mohammed VI over
the last ten years, he wondered, "How can this be possible in
the new Morocco?"


14. (C) The GOM's heavy-handed approach taken by the GOM in
this case illustrates Morocco's willingness to use its
counterterrorism laws to marginalize Islamist-inspired
political activities. The nearly universal belief that the
verdict of this trial was predetermined by the Ministry of
the Interior -- a not unlikely scenario -- highlights the
lack of trust many Moroccans have in the justice system.
Equally troubling for Morocco's governance reform outlook is
the plausible prospect that at least six defendants were
tried and convicted for political reasons unrelated to
zealous counter-terrorism objectives. If true, this would
represent a manipulation of the courts not only for security
goals but also to affect legitimate political activity -- a
step backward in the political and democratic progress the
Kingdom has realized in the past decade. Although the GOM
has made great progress in respecting human rights under King
Mohammed VI, there is still room for improvement,
particularly in respecting non-establishment viewpoints. End

Visit Embassy Rabat's Classified Website; cco

O 171334Z FEB 09



E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/17/2021

REF: A. STATE 14163

Classified By: CDA Cornelius Walsh, reasons 1.4(b) and (d).

1. (C/NF) Summary: Having watched the evolution of the
Israeli relations issue in the context of the Mauritanian
political crisis, we believe that the junta, particularly
Foreign Minister Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou, is deeply
concerned about the repercussions of a formal break in the
Mauritanian-Israeli relationship. Their steps to date, while
detrimental to Israeli interests, have been incremental and
hesitant. However, given the volatile nature of the issue,
American engagement at this very sensitive time may be used
by more radical members of the junta and its constituents,
who have a planning horizon much more limited than that of
the Foreign Minister, as a pretext to sever the relationship
and free Mauritania from what they consider its onerous
restraints. End Summary.

2. (U) Since the advent of the coup d'etat in early August,
Embassy Nouakchott has observed and reported on the junta's
approach towards relations with Israel as well as the
attitudes and statements of other participants in the current
political crisis affecting Mauritania. Inasmuch as Israeli
Ambassador Arbel had not presented his credentials prior to
the coup and that Israel hewed to the western policy of
non-recognition, this kept the issue off the table for some
months. Always a delicate subject, it appeared that both the
junta and its opponents preferred that the issue not enter
their political world.

3. (U) The late December Israeli incursion into Gaza,
however, changed the nature of the discussion. The junta
found itself pressured by its domestic constituency, its
opponents, and fellow Muslim states to cut relations with
Israel as a show of solidarity with Gaza and the Muslim
mainstream. Indeed, it appears that some states offered
recognition and financial support for just such a gesture.
Large and sometimes violent anti-Israeli demonstrations
focused on the Israeli Embassy in Nouakchott further forced
the junta to address the issue. On the domestic front the
junta appeared to be in a competition with its opponents as
to which could be more anti-Israel than the other.

4. (C/NF) Despite these pressures, the junta has proceeded
slowly and very carefully in its measures against the Israeli
presence. It has recalled its Ambassador (Ref B), declared a
freeze in relations (Ref C), almost surreptitiously closed
its Embassy in Tel Aviv and removed its personnel (Ref D),
and finally two weeks ago informally called the Israeli
Ambassador and asked that he take "appropriate measures"
regarding the freeze (Ref E). As of February 16, the Israeli
Ambassador has not been contacted again by the junta's
Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

5. (C/NF) We have sometimes considered the junta's steps to
be an attempt to have its cake and eat it as well, i.e., give
the appearance of distancing itself from Israel while
maintaining a straightened relationship. However, its
hesitancy, its apparent rejection of blandishments from Iran,
Libya and other players, and its rhetorical back and forth
with the opposition lead us to believe that the junta is well
aware of the serious consequences of an actual break in
diplomatic relations. The formal break is indeed a card that
the junta may wish to play at some point. However,
indications until now have been that it will not do so
without a pretext or an action that will allow it to gain an
advantage either from international partners (it already has
anti-sanction support from the Arab League) or against its
domestic opponents.

6. (C/NF) Intervention at this point may be the pretext the
junta desires/needs to make its final break. Using a USG
reminder as the focus of its rupture would burnish the
junta's "eastern" credentials with a number of Muslim states.
Having identified the United States as the most adamant of
its international critics, the junta would also be tempted to
use such an intervention to undermine our democratic
credentials with the Abdallahi administration, the FNDD, and
other parties with whom we have worked throughout the past
six months. There are those, evidenced, in a recent article
in a minor local newspaper "Points Chauds" who choose to see
the sanctions question and the internationalization of the
Mauritanian crisis as (in the words of the paper's headline)
"the Jewish lobby against the Arab pressure group, who will
have the last word?" We would therefore recommend that the
request outlined in Ref A be reconsidered.

7. (C/NF) Comment: In our conversations with the Israeli
Ambassador we sense that the GOI does not realize that the
full spectrum of political opinion in Mauritania, junta,
anti-junta, and opportunistic, is opposed to continuing
relations with Israel. The sole factor that has kept the
junta from a full breach is its understanding that such a
move would make its relations with the United States and the
west that much more difficult. This is understood as well by
the opposition parties which, while goading the junta to take
action, do not make such a break a sine qua non in their own
position papers. In our view, the Israelis could garner
possible good will in the future were they to follow the
Mauritanian lead and depart quietly and unofficially to
return just as quietly when conditions here and in the Middle
East improve. There is, of course, the danger that this
would be another pretext for a formal break but there is also
the possibility that the junta and/or any follow-on
administration would consider such discretion as a positive
factor in the future. End Comment.