New York - King Mohammed VI’s visit to Washington comes at a critical time for Morocco as well as the United States, lending it an important historical dimension.
New York – King Mohammed VI’s visit to Washington comes at a critical time for Morocco as well as the United States, lending it an important historical dimension.
The visit comes less than six months after tension erupted between the two countries last April when the United States attempted to include a human rights monitoring mechanism in the mandate of the United Nations Mission in the Western Sahara, known by its French acronym as MINURSO.
Thus, this visit should serve to restore and normalize the good relations between the two allies. Morocco will attempt to use its diplomatic leverage to win the sympathy of the American administration toward its position regarding the Sahara conflict, and to establish a bridge of communication with the Democratic Party, a large proportion of whose leadership is known to be sympathetic to the Polisario’s position.
The visit comes in the light of the latest developments in North Africa and the Sahel, a region affected by turmoil and by the spread of al-Qaeda-led terrorism. The terrorist organization has established a foothold in this region, instead of its former focus on Afghanistan in the past. This, in addition to the problems caused by illegal migration, has made Morocco in recent years one of the countries that are most affected by this phenomenon.
In view of the role played by Morocco during the last two years in restoring stability to Mali and fighting against terrorism, the Kingdom has shown once again to the world that it is an inescapable player in any strategy aimed at combating terrorism and maintaining stability in the region. This can be one of the important cards that Morocco can use to deepen its cooperation with the United States and become the major player Washington relies on for maintaining stability in the region and preserving its strategic interests.
The political stability enjoyed by Morocco in an area suffering from political unrest and instability is also among the factors that Morocco can use in its negotiations with the Americans, especially since it is the only country that has been able to resist the so-called “Arab Spring” through unprecedented political reforms that have contributed to maintaining Morocco’s political stability, thus turning it into a role model in the MENA region.
There is no doubt that this visit will have an unprecedented impact on the improvement of the relations between the two allies, be it at the political, economic or military levels. The important delegation accompanying King Mohammed VI, which includes a number of the most important players in the Moroccan economy, is a good signal that Morocco seeks to further deepen its economic relations with the United States, increase the volume of trade exchanges, and further implement the free trade agreement signed between the two countries in 2006. One can expect the two countries to sign a number of important agreements, particularly in the energy and banking fields, especially if one takes into account the importance Morocco attaches to developing renewable energy.
In this regard, one can expect to see Morocco rely on some of the leading U.S. companies in this field in order to develop its strategy in renewable energies. One can also expect the two countries, which are also the world’s largest producers of phosphates, to develop their cooperation in this area, especially in light of the importance that phosphates is expected to have in the coming years in maintaining global food security. This can be one of the cards that Morocco should use in the future with its foreign partners, including the United States, especially since it sits on the largest global reserve of this vital mineral.
At the political level, one can also expect to see the two countries deepen their strategic partnership and their political dialogue, as well as their cooperation in maintaining stability in the Middle East. Here it must be noted that, given the respect and trust that Morocco enjoys in the United States as a country of tolerance where all religions coexist, the kingdom could become among the key actors on which the United States could rely to revive the peace process in the Middle East and promote confidence-building between Israelis and Palestinians, especially in the absence of an Egyptian role since the beginning of the so-called Arab Spring.
Regarding the Sahara issue, there is no doubt that it will be among the main topics of the talks between King Mohammed VI and President Barack Obama. There is no doubt that the Moroccan monarch would use this opportunity to persuade the U.S. administration of the importance of finding a solution to the conflict based on the autonomy proposal presented by Morocco in April 2007.
In recent weeks, a number of Americans stakeholders have been urging the American administration to play a more active role in this regard and push for a settlement in line with Morocco’s interest and the respect of its territorial integrity. On Monday, nine former U.S. Ambassadors to Morocco addressed a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to support Morocco in its efforts to solve the long-standing Sahara conflict by “granting the territory broad autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty.”
“It is time for the US to make clear in the UN Security Council and elsewhere that this is the only realistic way to resolve this issue so that the international community can move on to more urgently needed solutions to the more pressing problems in the region,” the former American Ambassadors said.
This unprecedented letter, which was sent by American diplomats who served in Morocco for the past 32 years, is a strong message to the U.S. administration about the need to adopt an open and favorable stance towards Morocco and to treat it as one of the U.S.’s key strategic allies. In addition to the former US Ambassadors to Morocco, a considerable number of members of Congress, political analysts and prominent journalists urged President Obama to play a prominent role in finding a settlement to the Sahara dispute.
Nevertheless, despite the support enjoyed by Morocco in some influential quarters in Washington, Rabat must build a relationship of trust and mutual respect with the Democratic Party rather than simply rely on the support of the Republican Party. What Morocco needs is to strengthen its relations with the United States irrespective of what party is at the helm of the country in such a way that its interests will not be adversely affected by any change in the American administration. Morocco must also give guarantees regarding its intention to respect human rights throughout the kingdom, including in the Sahara and allow the Saharwis to enjoy a genuine autonomy.
However well-sounding the statement that the U.S. administration will issue after the King Mohammed VI meeting with Obama may be, one should not assume the struggle to settle this conflict has been won, nor that the Americans will provide clear and open support to Morocco.
Even in the event that Obama gives King Mohammed VI assurances that he will support Morocco’s position on the Sahara issue or at least maintain a positive neutrality on it, Moroccan decision-makers should be reminded that Algeria is lurking behind the scenes and awaiting any opportunity to thwart Morocco’s efforts and disturb the relations between the two countries. Hence the dire need for Moroccan diplomacy to work tirelessly throughout the year to win American and international public opinion and avoid falling into any trap that could be used by Algeria, the Polisario and their allies to weaken Morocco’s position and harm its reputation with respect to human rights.
Moroccan decision-makers should bear in mind that Algeria will keep playing the human rights card to discredit Morocco vis-à-vis the international community and that they need to have a clear strategy on how to neutralize that effort.
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