Spain and Morocco put an end to diplomatic tensions over Western Sahara

Spain took a radical turn on Friday by abandoning its position of neutrality and supporting Morocco in relation to the disputed territory of Western Sahara, ending a diplomatic crisis between the two countries.

“Spain considers that the autonomy initiative presented in 2007 [por Marruecos] it is the most serious, realistic and credible basis for the resolution of this dispute” between Rabat and the Saharawi separatists of the Polisario Front, declared the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, José Manuel Albares, before the press in Barcelona.

The minister thus confirmed a statement from the Moroccan Royal House that disclosed a letter sent by the President of the Spanish Government, Pedro Sánchez, to the Alawi kingdom.

Without citing the letter or mentioning the Sahara, the Spanish government had announced shortly before a “new stage” in relations with the North African country.

This position represents a radical change, since Spain up to now defended an attitude of neutrality between Rabat and the Polisario.

The conflict in Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony considered a “non-autonomous territory” by the UN, has pitted Morocco against the Polisario Front, supported by Algeria, for decades.

Rabat, which controls about 80% of this territory, proposes an autonomy plan under its sovereignty. The independentistas demand a self-determination referendum organized by the UN, foreseen in the 1991 ceasefire, which never materialized.

– Spain “has yielded” –

Within the framework of the normalization of relations between the two countries, Spain announced a visit by Pedro Sánchez to Morocco, on a date that was not specified.

The head of Spanish diplomacy, José Manuel Albares, will visit Rabat “before the end of the month,” the Spanish government statement specifies.

For Ignacio Cembrero, a Spanish journalist specializing in relations between the two countries, “the Spanish government has given in to Morocco’s main demand”, which asked it to support “its proposal for autonomy” for Western Sahara.

“It is an important change” because “as Morocco demands, it is made public,” he explained. “The Spanish authorities had always helped Morocco in recent years, but they had never wanted to make it public,” she said.

In a statement, the Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs welcomed “the positive positions and constructive commitments of Spain on the Moroccan Sahara.”

For its part, the Polisario delegation in Spain accused Madrid of having “ceded to blackmail and the policy of fear used by Morocco.”

– Migration crisis in Ceuta –

The diplomatic crisis between Morocco and Spain began in April 2021, when Madrid allowed the Polisario Front leader, Brahim Ghali, a sworn enemy of Rabat, to arrive on the peninsula to be hospitalized for covid-19.

In May, thousands of migrants forced their way into Ceuta, a Spanish enclave in northern Morocco.

Before the announcements this Friday, the tensions had diminished, without disappearing. The Moroccan ambassador in Madrid, who was called for consultations in May, has not yet returned to Spain.

According to Bernabé López, professor of Arab and Islamic studies at the Autonomous University of Madrid, the main objective of the Spanish government’s gesture regarding the Sahara is to obtain from Morocco a management of migratory flows.

“It implies tightening the nuts a little so that there is a little more control and not that deliberate lack of control that Morocco has,” he maintains.

Western Sahara is a key issue for Morocco in any negotiations.

In exchange for the resumption of its diplomatic relations with Israel, Morocco obtained recognition of the “Moroccan character” of the former Spanish colony by the United States, then led by Donald Trump.

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