MIDDLE EAST DESALINATION RESEARCH CENTER 23RD EXECUTIVE COUNCIL MEETING APPROVES A MORE REALISTIC BUDGET AND SELECTS A NEW DIRECTOR

Identifier: 
08MUSCAT880

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MUSCAT 000880

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/29/2018
TAGS: PREL, SENV, MU
SUBJECT: MIDDLE EAST DESALINATION RESEARCH CENTER 23RD
EXECUTIVE COUNCIL MEETING APPROVES A MORE REALISTIC BUDGET
AND SELECTS A NEW DIRECTOR

Classified By: Classified by DCM L. Victor Hurtado for reasons 1.4 (b,d
)

1. (U) This message contains action requests. See paragraph
5.

2. (C) SUMMARY: Meeting in Muscat December 15-16, the Middle
East Desalination Research Center (MEDRC) Executive Council
(EC) reached consensus on a more realistic budget for the
coming year and the need for MEDRC to become more
self-sustaining in the future by seeking diversification of
its revenue streams. At the same time, all delegations
realized that, in the immediate future in an uncertain global
economic environment, MEDRC would continue to rely primarily
on traditional funding sources. With this as background, the
EC selected a veteran Dutch diplomat, Ambassador Ronald
Alexander Mollinger, as the best of five finalist candidates
for MEDRC Director to begin the process of setting a new,
more sustainable course for MEDRC, one of the remaining
institutions of the Multilateral Track of the Middle East
Peace Process. END SUMMARY.

3. (C) EC MEETING: MFA Secretary General and MEDRC Chairman
Sayyid Badr bin Hamad bin Humud al-Busaidi convened the EC
December 15. During the morning session, outgoing MEDRC
Director Koussai Quteishat reviewed the previous year,s
operations reviewing the decisions of the 22nd meeting, the
status of research, capacity building,
communications-outreach, and administration-finance. During
the budget review, many councilors noted a persistent
misalignment between approved budgets and actual spending
with the result that MEDRC almost always under spent its
budget. Asked why, the Director responded that the funds
were not available. Hearing this, the U.S. side made a
motion that the 2009 budget be set at $2.0 million rather
than the $2.6 million requested. The new number was roughly
in line with actual spending in the years immediately
preceding 2009. The motion passed unanimously. (NB: While
this is a more rational budget than those previously
approved, the new Director faces a significant shortfall in
2010. The EC, however, did not seem prepared to consider a
more severe budget reduction at this meeting.)

4. (C) THE FUTURE OF MEDRC/EXECUTIVE SESSION: In an
afternoon session that included a discussion of MEDRC,s next
decade and an executive session without MEDRC staff and
experts, the EC acknowledged that the outgoing director had
successfully led MEDRC through an important period, but that
MEDRC was at a new stage. Further, MEDRC had survived the
years since the suspension of the Multilateral Track because
all parties, especially core parties Israel and Palestine,
saw MEDRC as addressing both political-environmental
realities. Looking to the future, all parties agreed that
MEDRC must become less reliant on state sponsorship and
increasingly self-sustaining. The way forward would include
seeking new EC members with their associated membership
donations, approaches to IO, NGOs, foundations/philanthropic
institions and private individuals, pay/sponsorship for
specific research projects, and charges for services,
literature and training (with "scholarships" for those who
cannot pay). At the same time, all agreed that MEDRC would
be reliant on state funding in the immediate future. The
U.S. delegation summed up the consensus view that these
objectives must be taken into account in selecting the next
Director. Sayyid Badr agreed and noted that he had
personally reduced a list of 20 applicants to five finalists
and that he would accept any one of the final five the EC
selected. The EC agreed that the 24th EC meeting will take
place in Oman on June 22, 2009. Sayyid Badr held out the
possibility that the meeting would be held outside of Muscat
at Jabal al-Akhdar where the temperatures would be more
moderate.

5. (C) SELECTING A NEW DIRECTOR: The EC met December 16
under the direction of Sayyid Badr deputy Ambassador Lyutha
al-Mughairi (NB: Lyutha is the sister of Omani Ambassador to
the U.S.. Hunaina al-Mughairi.) to select the next MEDRC
director. The EC listened to presentations and interviewed
each candidate one by one. There was strong consensus that
the Dutch candidate, veteran diplomat Ambassador Ronald
Alexander Mollinger was best candidate to direct MEDRC in the
coming years. (NB: The MEDRC contract will be for three
years, renewable for an additional three years.) Most
believed that with his regional experience and demonstrated
ability to work at high levels would be important to begin
MEDRC's transition to self-sustainability while still having
access to state funding. In corridor conversation it became

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clear that some delegations saw Mollinger as a transisitional
figure and not the long-term solution. In this regard, Dr.
Nidal Hillal, a UK citizen of Syrian origin and somewhat of a
dark hourse, impressed all with his candidacy and was the
second choice by consensus should Mollinger not accept the
position. Hillal impressed all with his experience in
establishing, attracting funding, and running the Center for
Clean Water Technologies at the University of Nottingham, a
center roughly similar in size and funding to MEDRC. His
technical background is of an extremely high caliber and he
has performed work in association with MEDRC. If Mollinger
does indeed play a ransistional role, Hillal could re-emerge
as a potential director candidate. Interestingly, the Qatari
councilor put down a marker that strong consideration should
be given to a regional candidate after Mollinger completed
his tenure.
6. (C) ACTION ITEMS: As part of discussions on December 15,
the Chair asked all council members to review with their
governments an informal Qatari proposal "to set up a
restricted fund into which members of the Council will
contribute towards a total of say $100 million. For the of
this fund, the Center will open an interest bearing account.
Interest generated on the principal can be used by the Center
whilst the principal remains (in) the ownership of the
contributing member. The contributing member can withdraw
their invested amount after early warning and justification,
hence making the commitment performance based. All the
delegations undertook to pass the proposal back to their
governments, but the U.S. and Dutch noted that the prospects
for approval where minimal. Nevertheless, the U.S. Councilor
should be prepared to present the U.S. postion on this
proposal at the 24th meeting. More importantly, the MEDRC
leaderhip noted that Spain and, even more imminently, Italy
had agreed to join the EC with the attendant full donation.
The Chair asked that EC members approach Rome and Madrid to
urge MEDRC EC membership as soon as possible. All EC members
agreed to request that their governments do so.

7. (U) PARTICIPANTS:

Executive Council:
Oman: H.E. Sayyid Badr bin Hamad
al-Busaidi
(Chairman)
USA: Mr. Victor Hurtado
(for Connie Arvis,
NEA/RA)
Japan: Mr. Mashiro Mikami
Israel: Mr. Daniel Nevo
Korea: Mr. Jong-Soo Kim
PA: Mr. Shaddad Attili
Jordan: Mr. Fayez Bataineh
Netherlands: H.E. Henrietta van Lynden
Qatar: Mr. Fahed Al Muhannadi

Technical Representatives:
USA: Mr. Kevin Price
Israel: Mr. Oded Fixler
Netherlands: Prof. Jan Schippers
PA: Mr. Rebhi El Sheikh
Oman: Mr. Zaher Al Suleimani

In Attendance:
Embassy of Japan: Mr. Hideki Yamaji
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Oman: H.E. Lyutha
Al-Mughairi
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Oman: Mr. Sameh Al-Amri

Center Staff:
Mr. Koussai Quteishat, Director
Ms. Shannon McCarthy, Associate Director for Development
GRAPPO