New York - In a move to calm the tension between the Secretariat of the United Nations and Morocco, following Ban Ki-Moon’s biased statements during his visit to the Tindouf camps in Algeria in early March, the official spokesperson of the UN said on Monday, March 28, that the UN chief “regrets the misunderstanding” that his statements have caused.
New York – In a move to calm the tension between the Secretariat of the United Nations and Morocco, following Ban Ki-Moon’s biased statements during his visit to the Tindouf camps in Algeria in early March, the official spokesperson of the UN said on Monday, March 28, that the UN chief “regrets the misunderstanding” that his statements have caused.
The statement by the spokesperson has been received with satisfaction by large segments of the Moroccan public, who expressed their happiness that Morocco has forced the Secretary-General to implicitly express his apology to the Moroccan government.
However, in the midst of this atmosphere of satisfaction created by the move, Morocco should be more cautious and not rush to say that it has resolved the diplomatic battle in its favor. It is true that Morocco has won the first round with the Secretary-General. Ban Ki-moon would not have expressed regret if he had not been under pressure from some members of the Security Council to put an end to this unprecedented tension that has negatively affected the work of the United Nations, which already has many more pressing and thorny issues on its agenda.
Nonetheless, a careful reading of the statement made by the Secretariat of the United Nations on Monday shows that the Secretary-General did not formally apologize to Morocco. Instead, the statement continued to stress that the use of the term “occupation” was done spontaneously by the Secretary-General and expressed his personal view of the situation of Saharawis in the Tindouf camps.
Ban Ki-moon also did not express his willingness to withdraw the term he used in blatant violation of the mandate entrusted to him by the Security Council. If the statement that the UN “regrets the misunderstanding” had been accompanied by an expression of the Secretary-General’s personal desire to withdraw that term, the situation would have been different. This would have represented an explicit apology by the Secretary-General.
However, the way in which the statement was phrased shows that Ban Ki-moon still believes the idea he promoted during his visit when he implied that Morocco was “occupying” the Sahara. The Secretary-General took a personal stance regarding the conflict and delivered his message in a deliberate and planned way.
Therefore, this statement should be seen as a tactical move that conceals the Secretary-General’s deliberate intention to attack Morocco in the report that he will submit to the Security Council within the next two weeks. In this sense, it would be naive to think that Ban Ki-moon will issue a neutral report on the situation in the Sahara.
The Secretary-General and his Personal Envoy have their own vision for the way the conflict should be settled. It appears that they will do everything in their power to draft a report that will urge members of the Security Council to consider adopting a new approach in line with their biased stance in favor of the Polisario and Algeria and consequently torpedo the autonomy plan proposed by Morocco in 2007.
I recall a conversation I had with the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General, Christopher Ross, on the sidelines of a seminar organized by Algeria and South Africa at the United Nations in March 2013 to promote the Polisario position. During that conversation, I asked Mr. Ross why he did not build on what his predecessor, Peter van Walsum, had done, and thereby consider the Moroccan autonomy plan the realistic ground on which to reach a political solution acceptable to both parties. Responding to my question, the American diplomat said that he did not have the same vision as Mr. van Walsum and that he thought that the solution to the conflict must ensure all options, including the option of a referendum that could lead to the independence of the Sahara.
I came out of that five-minute discussion with a conviction that as long as Mr. Ross remains in charge of mediation in the dispute over the Moroccan Sahara, there will not be a political solution acceptable to both parties of the conflict, in line with Resolution 1754. Mr. Ross has become a burden on the dispute instead of a mediator capable of resolving it.
Ban Ki-moon May Try to Transfer the Conflict to Chapter VII of the UN Charter
It is not unlikely that the Secretary-General will recommend the transfer of the conflict from Chapter VI to Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations. In this scenario, the resolutions that the Security Council adopts would not require the consent of either Morocco or the Polisario. Instead, both parties would be obliged to comply with them and implement them literally. There has been discussion in the United Nations that the Secretary-General may recommend the formation of a federation or commonwealth, which many regard as a political solution that offers less than independence and more than autonomy.
If we look at the political map of many Arab and Islamic countries and the changes that have taken place during the past few years or decades, we can come to the conclusion that this proposal may receive the backing of some major countries known for their general support for the federation concept as a solution in all countries where ethnic or religious minorities call for independence or autonomy.
Morocco Needs to Use All of Its Diplomatic Cards
In this sense, Morocco should play all of the diplomatic cards it has at its disposal rather than rely on statements that have been made by some of its allies that have not been applied on the ground nor translated into real and effective support that could preserve Morocco’s interests and ensure stability in the region.
As Moroccans we are all urged to learn from previous experiences, which teach us that some of the same countries that have long claimed support for Morocco were behind initiatives that could have dealt a serious blow to its position on the issue. In this context, we should recall what happened in April 2013, when Moroccans were surprised by the draft resolution presented by the United States, calling for the expansion of the mandate of MINURSO to include human rights monitoring in the Sahara and in the Tindouf camps.
This proposal came after the United States echoed for several years unclear and ambiguous support for the Moroccan autonomy proposal as “realistic, serious and credible” and “offering the basis for a political solution.” Moroccans should not forget that Susan Rice, the Permanent Representative of the United States of America to the United Nations at the time, who was behind the American draft resolution of April 2013, is now the U.S. National Security Advisor. In other words, the same officials who were behind the initiative are still playing a pivotal role in shaping the priorities of the U.S. foreign policy.
In this context, Morocco should learn a lesson from the experience of Saudi Arabia with the United States. U.S. President Barack Obama did not hesitate to let down an important U.S. ally by concluding an agreement with Iran to resolve the issue of its nuclear program, forgetting that Iran is Saudi Arabia’s biggest existential threat in the region. We must realize that the United States is not driven by emotions nor long and historical relationships with its allies, including that with Morocco, the first nation to recognize the United States as an independent country.
The U.S. administration was oblivious to the long history of good relations with Saudi Arabia, including the great services provided by Saudi Arabia to Washington in the 1980s, when it used the weapon of oil as a means to weaken the Soviet Union and accelerate its collapse.
What should be taken into account is that the crisis caused by the Secretary-General did not come out of nowhere, and it could not have happened if there had not been some arrangements behind the scenes between the Secretary-General and other parties. Consequently, while Morocco should strive to strengthen its relations with the United States, it should also deepen its relations with other influential members of the Security Council, especially Russia and China.
Morocco should be ready for any possible developments and begin working to stave off sudden shifts that could result in consequences contrary to its aspirations to end this conflict in a way that acknowledges and strengthens its sovereignty over the Sahara.
In this regard, I think that the timing of King Mohammed VI’s visit to Russia two weeks ago came in the framework of a new Moroccan strategy to expand the circle of influential countries in the Security Council that could help Morocco in the case of sudden developments in the conflict.
I think that Moroccan diplomacy has drawn lessons from past experiences and begun to gather the support it will need in the coming weeks in order to come out victorious in the second round of the diplomatic battle between Rabat and the Secretary-General of the United Nations and his Personal Envoy.
If France, Morocco’s first strategic ally, has played the role of Rabat’s principal backer in this issue over the past two decades, I guess it is time for Morocco to win the support and solidarity of other influential countries such as Russia and China, especially since these countries do not have the tendency to support the establishment of independent states in all areas where separatists call for independence.
Samir Bennis is the co-founder of and editor-in-chief of Morocco World News. You can follow him on Twitter @Samir Bennis
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