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Viewing cable 09TRIPOLI437, LIBYA'S FORMER NUCLEAR CENTER DIRECTOR RESURFACES

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09TRIPOLI437 2009-06-04 12:12 2011-01-31 21:09 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tripoli
VZCZCXRO0465
PP RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHDH RUEHKUK RUEHROV
DE RUEHTRO #0437/01 1551244
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 041244Z JUN 09
FM AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4878
INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE
RUEHUNV/USMISSION UNVIE VIENNA PRIORITY 0068
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RUEHTRO/AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI 5409
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TRIPOLI 000437 
 
SIPDIS 
 
STATE FOR NEA/MAG AND ISN/CTR 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL:  5/20/2019 
TAGS: KNNP AORC IAEA PGOV LY
SUBJECT: LIBYA'S FORMER NUCLEAR CENTER DIRECTOR RESURFACES 
 
TRIPOLI 00000437 001.2 OF 002 CLASSIFIED BY: Gene Cretz, Ambassador, U.S. Embassy Tripoli, U.S. Department of State. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)

1.(C) Summary: Dr. Abdelkarem Mgeg, who until early this year had been Director of Libya's Tajura Nuclear Research Center (TNRC), was suddenly replaced in late January. In a recent meeting, Mgeg said he was happy to not be working on "anything nuclear" and is developing a "strategic roadmap" for Libya's fledgling alternative energy sector; he hopes to attract U.S. investors and to pull others (in Libya) along with good ideas for alternative energy applications. Mgeg also outlined the new organizational chart of Libya's nuclear and energy establishment. While it is unfortunate that Mgeg was moved out of the TNRC (he was one of post's most energetic interlocutors), his lack of political sway had hampered his ability to engage effectively on more politically-charged issues, such as securing visas for visiting U.S. technical experts. His denouement is an important reminder that we need to engage the Government of Libya (GOL) at both he working and senior policy levels, even on technical programs, to ensure that there is the requisite political approval for proposed cooperation programs. End summary.

FORMER NUCLEAR CENTER DIRECTOR NOW WORKING FULL-TIME ON ALTERNATIVE ENERGY

2.(C) On May 19, Econoff met with Dr. Abdelkarem Mgeg, who until recently, was director of the TNRC. In January, post learned that Mgeg had been replaced by Dr. Ahmed al-Habrush. At the time, Mgeg told the P/E Chief that he planned to be engaged in a combination of "consulting work" with Libya's Atomic Energy Establishment (LAEE) and "private business". In his more recent meeting with EconOff, Mgeg said he was happy to not be working on "anything nuclear" and was developing a "strategic roadmap" for Libya's fledgling alternative energy sector. While Mgeg still technically reports to Dr. Ali Gashut, Director of the LAEE, he appears to be working independently and has set up an office at Tripoli's International Exhibition Center. His office was supposed to be co-located with Gashut's in the LAEE's headquarters, but he had refused to avoid being "bothered by menial administrative tasks". Mgeg, who holds a PhD in Electronics from UCLA, started in 2007 as general manager of the then-Renewable Energies and Water Desalination Research Center (REWDRC) and Nuclear Research Center at Tajura. (Note: Since Mgeg's departure, the center has reverted to its previous name, the Tajura Nuclear Research Center. End note.) Mgeg was replaced by al-Habrush in part because he was perceived to have worked too independently and had not kept Gashut (his supervisor) informed of his activities. xxxxxxxxxxxx Mgeg, who enjoys a reputation as a more future-focused thinker, explained that he is working on a strategic plan for Libya for the next 30-40 years.

ORGANIZATIONAL CHART FOR THE LAEE

3. (C) Mgeg outlined the organizational chart of the newly-restructured nuclear and energy establishment which is comprised of three divisions, all answering to the LAEE, which is headed by Gashut. Gashut in turn reports directly to Prime Minister al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi. The divisions include: Chemical Engineering (with the Petrochemical Institute) headed by Dr. Mansour (no first name given); the Tajura Nuclear Center, headed by Dr. Ahmed al-Habrush; and the Alternative Energy Research Center, headed by Dr. Salem Ghurbal. Although Mgeg is working on alternative energy, he reports directly to Gashut instead of thruogh Dr. Ghurbal. Ghurbal is responsible for research projects in alternative energy whereas he (Mgeg) is working on Libya's strategic roadmap for pursuing alternative energy. xxxxxxxxxxxx He characterized his relationship with Gashut as still "friendly", but conceded that some underlying tensions clearly remain. Mgeg said he preferred to work on technical matters and was not interested in a political job. (Note: In a separate meeting, we learned that Dr. Mohammad Ennami, formerly science advisor to the Secretary for Infrastructure Matuq Matuq, is now Gashut's deputy at the LAEE. End note).

PUSHING FOR ALTERNATIVE ENERGY

4. (C) In his new position, Mgeg said one of his goals is to attract U.S. investors to the alternative energy sector. He explained his task was to "pull" others in Libya along with good ideas (rather than pushing them), and to persuade them to embrace new alternative energy technologies. He argued that new technologies may be expensive now, but in the long run, the cost will decrease due to increased efficiencies, whereas the price TRIPOLI 00000437 002.2 OF 002 of oil will always fluctuate. Libya should husband its hydrocarbon resources for export and should begin producing more power from alternative energy sources. He noted Libya has tremendous potential in solar and wind power and could contribute to the power needs of the entire Mediterranean area. American companies and universities are welcome to come to Libya and do conduct research and help train Libya's next generation of specialized engineers. He thought in 30 years, the alternative energy sector would be "big," including a 1,000 megawatt wind-powered electricity station. He noted that there are already plans to build a 15 megawatt combined solar/hydro plant in Sirte, and a German firm was conducting a feasibility study for the project. Mgeg expressed admiration for Germany, which produces 20 per cent of its energy needs through alternative sources. He cited German laws and tax credits as important factors in meeting this goal.

5. (C) Mgeg plans to organize an international conference on alternative energy that would bring together decision-makers, investors and scholars, and asked for Post's help in attracting American participants. He cautioned, however, the conference had not yet been officially-approved on the Libyan side. Mgeg also asked for help in identifying examples of good environmental laws from the U.S. that he could use in recommending new environmental laws for Libya.

6. (C) Comment: It is unfortunate, but telling, that Mgeg was moved to sidelines. One of post's most energetic interlocutors in terms of scientific and technical cooperation, he eschewed the stifling official Libyan bureaucray and was in direct contact with U.S. scientists and officials. As an example, he never required formal permission from Protocol officials for Emboffs to accompany other USG visitors to the Tajura Nuclear Research Center. By contrast, during a recent visit by DOE experts to Tajura, Mgeg's successor did not allow Econoff to enter the facility since prior permission had not been granted (although we had sent a formal request, we had never received an answer). On the other hand, Mgeg was not always successful in obtaining visa approvals for would-be USG experts, which may have reflected his lack of political sway. He himself admitted that he was not interested in playing the political games that feature so prominently here. Elevating Muhammad Ennami to serve as Gashut's deputy reflects the fact that in Libya, formal title is often less important than personal political contacts. We expect Ennami to continue to play an important behind-the-scenes role in Libya's nuclear affairs. Mgeg's departure from the TNRC is an important reminder that Post and other USG actors need to engage the Libyans at both the working and policy (i.e., Gashut) levels to ensure that there is political approval for proposed cooperation programs. End comment. CRETZ