Tunisia’s PM rejects his Defense Minister’s statement about Algeria exporting terrorism to Tunisia
An important interview, in tonight’s Daily Briefing (for a free trial email firstname.lastname@example.org). A lot of over optimism by Essid in regards to the economy, Algeria border and even Libyan border… But that is in some ways his job.
On October 27, reporter Abdessalam Sakia interviewed Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid for the daily Echourouk el-Youmi: “In an interview with Echourouk on the sidelines of his visit to Algeria in which he discussed relations between the two countries, the bases of cooperation, repercussions of the memorandum of understanding between his country and the Washington and Tunisia’s involvement in the international alliance to fight Da’ish, Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid stressed that there was no crisis between Tunisia and Algeria and that openness and closeness were the bases of the relations between the two countries. He pointed out that some sides attempted to create a rift between Tunisia and Algeria. “We tell them you have failed and will continue to fail.”
“[Echourouk] What is your agenda on your second visit to Algeria after becoming head of the executive authority?
“[Essid] My previous visit to Algeria was also my first visit abroad after having been assigned to lead the government and the purpose of that visit was to coordinate with my brother Abdelmalek Sellal, with whom I have strong and well-established relations. It was an opportunity to examine aspects of bilateral cooperation.
“My visit comes within the framework of the Higher Joint Mixed Commission through which we shall discuss all the political, economic and security issues as well as all the files that concern Algerian-Tunisian relations. This includes those that concern the two countries at the international and regional levels. We shall also consult our Algerian brothers on stances that are important to us before we can declare united stances on the issues that concern us.
“[Echourouk] The Tunisian official message from the president, you personally and your ministerial team affirms the strength of relations between the two countries. What would your visit add to that?
“[Essid] As I mentioned earlier, our relations with Algeria are strong and well-established since the liberation revolutions in Tunisia and Algeria. The cooperation continued after the two countries’ independence. This will be an opportunity to consolidate relations in all spheres. I would mention specifically that there would be many sectors of the economy to be discussed. Furthermore, many agreements will be signed and we will discuss the development of security relations between the two countries. We can say that relations between Tunisia and Algeria are strong and very strong. As you are aware, the situation in the region compels us to coordinate further because terrorism has become a world phenomenon that moves across states. There is a need for increased international coordination, which I believe is one of the most important elements in combating terrorism. In this context, we work with many countries, particularly neighbouring, friendly and close countries, in the field of coordination and exchange of information on terrorists. We have in-depth consultations with brotherly Algeria and we discuss the situation in Libya in extensive meetings at the highest levels to produce proposals in order to expedite the process of reaching a solution for the Libyan problem, which worries everyone. It particularly worries neighbouring countries, especially Tunisia and Algeria. What happens in Libya concerns the two countries in a major way.
“[Echourouk] You have put forward an optimistic view on Algerian-Tunisian relations but many sides believe that the relations are foggy. Others even believe there is a silent crisis because of the agreement signed between you and the US administration and the possibility of the establishment of a foreign military base in your territory. The fiery statement against Algeria made by Sarkozy from Tunis and his visit was at the invitation of the ruling party as well as the statement attributed to your defence minister.
“[Essid] There is no mist around the relations with Algeria. On the contrary there is openness, which is the basis of the relations between the two governments and states. The mention of mist is only spread by the media. We live in a democratic environment and that provides an opportunity for some people to talk and they cannot be prevented from doing so even if what they say is wrong. I would like to stress clearly, and I have done so in a private meeting, that relations between Tunisia and Algeria are direct and strong. There are some sides which are disturbed by the harmony between the two countries. Let me be more open and say that those sides are fishing in murky waters. Those sides are not happy about the understanding, agreement and harmony between the two countries. I would say candidly to those sides: You have failed and you will fail in your endeavour. You will not be able to influence and harm the relations between the two countries and what you endeavour to do will fail because the relations between the two countries are strong and firm. As I said before, the relations are strong and no one can harm them.
“Regarding what happened between Tunisia and the US administration, it was not an agreement but a memorandum of understanding on cooperation. I assure you, no agreement has been signed with the USA because an agreement has its own special legal framework. This is what took place during President Beji Caid Essebsi’s visit to Washington. As for the statements attributed to the defence minister, they are untrue. There is terrorism on the border between the two countries and there are terrorists who move from Tunisia to Algeria. The border is close and that is why they move to Algeria. Can we in that case say that Tunisia exports terrorism to Algeria? This would be untrue and distorted and the same applies to anyone who would say that Algeria exports terrorism to Tunisia…
“[Echourouk] You simplified what you described as a memorandum of understanding with the US administration but there has been dismay in Algeria about it and the evidence is in the fact that President Beji sent a special envoy to President Bouteflika.
“[Essid] The visit by the president’s envoy to his brother President Bouteflika was within the framework of explaining perception and understanding between the two countries. The purpose of the visit was to remove obscurity. It seems that the erroneous reading by the media regarding the memorandum of understanding applied to the defence minister’s statements. Some media channels exploited the statements to give an incorrect interpretation to the extent of saying that Tunisia accused Algeria of exporting terrorism. As for a US base in Tunisia, there is no truth to that. We have heard many interpretations. If we decide to establish a foreign military base such as a Russian one or one from another country, it would be a matter that concerns our sovereignty.
“[Echourouk] Is that on the agenda?
“…[Echourouk] You have talked about security coordination between the two countries. What has been achieved on the ground as a result of that coordination? More precisely, have terrorist plans been foiled on the basis of Algerian intelligence reports?
“[Essid] There is security coordination based on the fact that there is a presence of terrorism in the two countries and we have to find a solution for that. Coordination between the two countries is at the level of intelligence. There is also almost daily coordination between the units which are deployed along the border and there is also national coordination between the competent services in Algeria and Tunisia. Many successful security operations have been carried out in Tunisia within the framework of full coordination with the competent services in Algeria.
“[Echourouk] Are there plans within the framework of security coordination to carry out joint operations by the Tunisian and Algerian security services and to establish joint patrols in the border strip?
“[Essid] There is strong and continued coordination but it has not reach the stage of joint action between security services in the two countries. There are no joint military teams due to specific conditions and the constitution of each state. We observe the provisions of our constitution and of the Algerian constitution. However, the fact remains that combating terrorism is carried out in full and direct coordination between the competent services in the two countries.
“[Echourouk] Terrorist activity is still evident in Tunisia, such as the operations in Bardo, Sousse and the western region. What have the security services achieved? Could the dissolution of the security services after the January 2011 revolution be considered as a contributory factor in the aggravation of the phenomenon?
“[Essid] First of all, the intelligence services have not been dissolved. The State Security Service was dissolved after the January 2011 revolution, while the other service remained in operation. As for foiling terrorist operations like Bardo and Sousse, I assure you there is no zero rate in foiling terrorist operations…”