New York - As expected by a number of Moroccan and American observers, King Mohammed VI’s visit to the United States of America was fruitful for Morocco at many levels, whether the deepening of its cooperation with its American partner on matters of security, military and counter-terrorism in the Sahel or the promotion of trade and cultural ties.
New York – As expected by a number of Moroccan and American observers, King Mohammed VI’s visit to the United States of America was fruitful for Morocco at many levels, whether the deepening of its cooperation with its American partner on matters of security, military and counter-terrorism in the Sahel or the promotion of trade and cultural ties.
The focal point of talks between King Mohammed VI and President Obama was the question of the Sahara. The statement issued by the White House ahead of the meeting between the two leaders, made it clear that the United States supports the autonomy plan presented by Morocco to the Security Council in April 2007.
This position is of important political significance; for the first time a U.S. president expressed this support for the Moroccan proposal as a viable approach to find a solution to the Sahara conflict. The U.S. position falls in line with Morocco’s long expressed desire to ensure political stability in the region. The United States position and expression of support from the President is very important, considering that in the past, the autonomy proposal statements usually came through the U.S. Department of State, and not directly from the highest authority in the country, the President.
In his joint statement with King Mohammed VI, the U.S. president expressed support for the stalled efforts aimed at finding a peaceful, lasting and agreed-upon solution to the territorial dispute. This shows that perhaps the U.S. administration is convinced that there is a possibility of a win-win approach to the conflict.
The political value of U.S. position lies in reiterating the need to continue UN efforts to reach a political solution, away from the imposition of any other approach by the international community.
In my view, the personal diplomacy of King Mohammed VI played a major role in achieving this result, which can be viewed as a diplomatic victory for Morocco, and fort peace in the region. The importance of the role by the royal diplomacy was in display last April when he endeavored to prevent the adoption of the draft resolution proposed by the U.S to the Security Council, which attempted to expand the mandate of MINURSO in the Sahara to include human rights monitoring. The importance of the King’s diplomacy came to light also through his phone call with U.S. President Barack Obama during which the latter invited the former to visit Washington.
Political value of the letter of former U.S ambassadors to Morocco
On the other hand, it must be noted that the support expressed by the U.S. administration was partly achieved thanks to the lobbying efforts undertaken by some influential American figures in Washington, including the former American Ambassadors to Morocco, some members of Congress and a number of analysts. The common denominator of these personalities’ efforts was to recall the strategic value of the long-standing relationship between the United States and Morocco, and the role played by the kingdom at the regional level to maintain stability of North Africa and the Sahel region. Both roles are of strategic importance to the United States of America and its European allies.
The letter sent by nine former American ambassadors to Morocco, as well as some members of Congress is evidence to the degree of confidence enjoyed by Morocco as a strategic ally of the United States. It also translates their conviction of the need for Washington to support the Moroccan position on the Sahara and treats it as a strategic ally.
The political value of the letter sent by former American ambassadors lies in the general consensus among American decision-makers that it is time for Washington to stand by Morocco and provide its ally with real support to put an end to the Sahara conflict.
The refusal of neither Polisario nor Algeria to issue any comment to the press on the latest development in the light of the US position that supports autonomy is very telling. On Friday, a Polisario representative to the United Nations refused to participate with Moroccan Minister Mustapha El Kalfi on an Al-Jazeera program devoted to the outcome of the King’s visit to Washington. This indicates that Morocco is well positioned to achieve a diplomatic victory over Algeria and Polisario who continue to obstruct peace.
The need to exercise caution and to build on what has been achieved
The significant progress achieved by Morocco on the Sahara issue remains arduous and requires more diplomacy at all fronts. Rabat must be reminded that adversaries of its territorial unity won’t be sitting idly. Morocco must double its efforts to build on what has been achieved thus far, and in one particular area Human rights. Morocco should work diligently on improving this issue so that it does not get used as a trump card by Morocco’s enemies and those who wish to derail the peace process. The Moroccan government should also act with wisdom and deal intelligently with the separatists living inside the Sahara and avoid falling into any trap because of the provocations that it will certainly be exposed to in the near future.
Moroccan authorities should devote special human resources to help diffuse all possible provocations of Polisario supporters. Morocco must demonstrate effectively to Europeans and Americans that it is determined to move forward on the path of democratic reforms and respect of human rights, both in the Sahara and throughout the rest of the Moroccan territory.
The need to promote the autonomy plan
After King Mohammed VI’s visit to the United States and the quasi explicit support from President Obama for the Moroccan proposal to grant broad autonomy to the Sahara, it is time that Morocco shifted its strategy from talking about the virtues of this proposal in international forums or with international partners to clearly define the details of the proposal and keep the international community informed of the strategy that would enable the inhabitants of the Sahara to run their affairs. Morocco should take advantage of the momentum created by the renewed American support to a political and agreed-upon solution and take the necessary steps to garner broader international support to its autonomy plan.
As an American colleague told me once, unlike the Polisario which does not put forward any serious alternative to reach a political settlement to the conflict and rather continues to cling to self-determination despite the fact that the conditions for holding such referendum have proven unrealistic, Morocco is the only party in the conflict that put on the table a political project which enjoys the support of major international players.
Thus, instead of being always on the defensive and being cornered on the question of human rights, Morocco should shift to being proactive and put in place a well-thought-out diplomatic strategy that would enable it to better publicize its autonomy project and further garner the support of the international community towards finding an agreed-upon solution to the protracted Sahara conflict.
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