Washington Won’t Support Creation of State in Southern Morocco: WSJ

 Mike Pompeo and Nasser Bourita
Mike Pompeo and Nasser Bourita

According to the Wall Street Journal, the US position on the Western Sahara conflict is clear.  The August 11 publication emphasizes that the US are firm in the belief that independence for the region will never work as a solution to the conflict.

According to Moroccan and Western officials involved in negotiations, American officials have made it clear in private talks that the U.S. backs Morocco.  The US is also clear in its opposition to the creation of an independent state in Western Sahara, reports the newspaper.

The author of the report argued that  that the Trump administration’s position could disappoint separatist activists  hoping to raise their flag in a declaration of independence.

“Officials involved in the talks said the U.S. have made it clear that Washington won’t support a plan that leads to a new African nation,” the paper adds.

The publication also recalls Morocco’s major concerns over  US National Security Adviser John Bolton’s view on Western Sahara.

Bolton and Western Sahara

“To the U.N., this tiny peacekeeping mission [MINURSO] is a success,” the paper writes, emphasizing that Bolton is “putting the weight of the White House behind  a contentious plan to resolve the Western Sahara conflict by turning the screws on the U.N. and trying to force the rival parties to cut a deal,” according to the WSJ.

The American official  has made no secret of his desire to give a new impetus to end the political impasse that prevents the parties from reaching a mutually acceptable political solution. Viewed from Rabat, however, Bolton’s enthusiasm and personal involvement are regarded with apprehension in light of his past statements about and involvement in the conflict.   

Bolton was part of the US State Department team that helped draft the 1991 UN settlement which contributed to ending the 16-year long conflict that pitted Morocco against the Polisario

Bolton also worked with James Baker, former UN Secretary General Personal Envoy to Western Sahara between 1997 and 2004. As such,  he participated in drafting the Baker Plan I, known as the Framework Agreement, in 2001 which Morocco accepted. Algeria and the Polisario opposed that agreement. 

Bolton also played a prominent role in drafting the terms of the Baker Plan II in 2003, which Morocco opposed, because the deal included the option independence through a referendum of self-determination.  Morocco’s firm opposition led eventually to Baker’s resignation in 2004. 

When Bolton was appointed US ambassador to the UN between 2005 and 2006, he failed to end conflict in line with his convictions. Ever since he left the government in 2006, Bolton has been vocal in blaming the failure of the UN-led process undertaken under Baker’s leadership on Morocco. He has also been vocal in criticizing the UN Security Council for not forcing Rabat to accept the deal.

Bolton ranks among the rare  past and present US officials who support the holding of a referendum of self-determination to end the conflict. In light of Morocco’s opposition to the referendum, he called repeatedly for ending the  MINURSO’s mandate.

In his 208 memoir Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations, Bolton said: “MINURSO had failed in its central mission to conduct a referendum and was now actually an obstacle to Morocco and Algeria dealing with each other. Since it was clear that Morocco had no intention of ever allowing a referendum, there was no point in a UN mission to conduct one. Instead, and typically of the UN, MINURSO seemed well on the way to acquiring a near-perpetual existence because no one could figure out what to do with it.”

Ever since he was appointed national security adviser to President Donald Trump, Bolton has tried to leave his imprimatur on the political process. In December 2018, Bolton dismissed the UN mission to Western Sahara, known as  MINURSO, for being ineffective and costly.

Bolton expressed frustration that the Western Sahara conflict is yet to reach a satisfactory conclusion for either party.

“Ladies and gentlemen, 27 years of deployment of this peacekeeping force, 27 years and it’s still there? How can you justify that? I have got to know over the years the Saharawi people, I have enormous respect for them, I have enormous respect for the government and people of Morocco and Algeria, is there not a way to resolve it?” Bolton said at a Washington, D.C., event.

UN mission sustains stability

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Morocco’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Nasser Bourita, argued that ending the UN mission in the region would have severe negative consequences for the region’s stability.

Morocco has long warned that poverty and the dire conditions in the Tindouf camps, Algeria, could be a catalyst for the radicalisation of the region’s youth, pushing them into the arms of terrorist organizations. 

“Is the danger to the U.S. from 230 people from MINURSO or…. the fact that the Islamic State and al Qaeda are able to attract people from Indonesia, from Casablanca and elsewhere?” Bourita said.

The journal writes that  “Serious talks on Western Sahara amid the uncertainty appear unlikely and a U.S. plan to end the U.N. mission could create more turmoil,”the author of the WSJ report said. 

“Minurso is $52 million to keep stability, to keep a cease-fire in a region which is very difficult,” said Bourita.

“No one has died since the cease-fire, which means this is the most cost-effective peacekeeping mission in the world.”He added, “No one has died since the cease-fire, which means this is the most cost-effective peacekeeping mission in the world,” he added. 

In addition to the conflict, the publication also recalled Morocco’s commitment to the development of Moroccan southern provinces in Western Sahara, including Laayoune.

“Morocco has spent millions transforming Laayoune, the former Spanish capital of Western Sahara, into a functioning desert town of about 200,000,” the paper writes.

Political process under control 

Despite the hopes the Polisario placed in Bolton to move the political process forward and to force Morocco to accept holding a referendum, and Algeria’s hiring of top lobbyists to sway the US administration, Morocco has so far succeeded in keeping the political process under control. 

More still, the latest resolutions adopted by the UN Security Council in the past 12 months have been positive for Morocco, in that, for the first time since the start of the political process, Algeria is considered a party to the conflict in quasi equal footing with Morocco and the Polisario. 

Both Resolution 2440 of October  2018 and Resolution 2468 adopted last April mention Algeria both in the preamble and the operatives paragraphs, which observers see as a significant change in the way the Security Council addresses the conflict. Morocco has long called for Algeria’s full involvement in the conflict and said on many occasions that Algeria is the party that arms the Polisario, supports its at the diplomatic, economic and military levels and without all that support the Polisario would not have lasted until now. 

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