New York - Moroccan authorities have voiced their disappointment with the position the United States has adopted regarding the Western Sahara.
New York – Moroccan authorities have voiced their disappointment with the position the United States has adopted regarding the Western Sahara.
In a communique made public following the adoption of Resolution 2285, the Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation said: “The Kingdom of Morocco regrets that the member of the Security Council that is responsible for the drafting and presentation of the first draft resolution has introduced elements of pressure, constraints and weakness, which acts against the spirit of the partnership that ties it with the Kingdom of Morocco.”
The United States is the penholder for the Security Council resolution on Western Sahara. In this capacity, it is the country that prepares the first elements of the draft resolution that it submits to the other members of the Group of Friends of Western Sahara (France, UK, Russia and Spain) before it submits it to the other members of the Security Council for consideration and adoption.
But while the United States has long stated that its position with regards to the conflict has not changed and it considers the Moroccan autonomy plan as “serious, credible, realistic,” the way in which it conducted negotiations on this year’s draft resolution showed that it carries out a double discourse about the conflict.
Two main reasons belie Morocco’s disappointment with the US double rhetoric. First in form: unlike the practice in previous years, the US Mission to the United Nations submitted the draft resolution to the Group of Friends without consulting with Morocco. This prompted Omar Hilale, Morocco’s Ambassador to the United Nations, to express his displeasure with the US move.
Second, in substance: the initial draft resolution was aligned with some paragraphs contained in Ban Ki-moon’s annual report on the Western Sahara in which he accused Morocco of hampering the mandate of MINURSO after its decision to ask its civilian component to leave the territory.
What caused Rabat’s disappointment is that the first draft addressed Morocco’s decision to request the departure of MINURSO’s civilian component without addressing the cause of that decision. In fact, the US administration overlooked the fact that the main cause of the friction between Morocco and the UN Secretariat is Ban Ki-moon’s biased statement in the Tindouf camps in March in which he described Morocco’s presence over the Western Sahara as an “occupation.”
Additionally, the first draft contained punitive measures against Morocco and, if adopted, would have put Rabat under pressure and the threat of further coercive measures. The first draft resolution emphasized the need for the return of MINURSO to its full functionality. This provision was contrary to Morocco’s stated interests.
In addition, the draft contained a second new operative paragraph that requested “the Secretary General to brief the Council within 60 days on whether MINURSO has returned to full functionality and expresses its intention, if MINURSO has not achieved full functionality, to consider immediate steps to facilitate achievement of this goal.”
It was only thanks to the efforts made by France and Spain that the draft resolution has been watered down and its language softened in a way that it does not provide for any punitive measures against Morocco. Though the final resolution emphasizes the need that MINURSO return to full functionality, it does not set any timeframe, and does not provide for coercive measures should Morocco not abide by its provisions.
In addition, it requests the UN chief to report to the Council within 90 days on whether MINURSO has returned to full functionality and does not contain any provisions for taking any immediate measures in case Morocco does not allow its full return. The final text leaves the door open for negotiations between Morocco and the United Nations.
The language adopted by Resolution 2285 explains why Venezuela and Uruguay voted against it, and why they expressed their displeasure with it when they justified their vote.
Total disconnect between public statements and actual action
Morocco’s disappointment is all the more justified as it comes after multiple statements in which US officials repeated the same position they have held for years.
At the height of the tension between Morocco and Ban Ki-moon in March and while Moroccans were displeased with the fact that the US was leaning towards Ban Ki-moon during the Security Council’s meetings, Washington sent a number of signals to assure Morocco that its position regarding the conflict has not changed.
It first made a statement through a tweet published by Kurtis Cooper, a spokesperson of the US Mission to the United Nations. On Sunday March 20, Cooper said that Washington considers Morocco’s autonomy plan “serious, realistic, credible, and it represents a potential approach that could satisfy the aspirations of Western Sahara.”
The same statement was repeated afterwards by the ambassador of the United States in Rabat, Dwight L. Bush, in an exclusive interview with Maghreb Arab Press (MAP).
A few days later, on March 23, during a phone call between King Mohammed VI and US Secretary of State, John Kerry, the latter informed the former that the US position on the conflict remains unchanged within the framework agreed jointly by the king and President Barack Obama in November 2013 in Washington. Kerry added that “dialogue between the two countries would continue to achieve, on that basis, a final solution to this regional dispute.”
The same position was repeated during a closed-door meeting of the Security Council on April 7 to receive a briefing from Hervé Ladsous, Under-Secretary General for Peace-keeping Operations on latest developments of MINURSO’s activities after Morocco decided to ask its civilian component to leave the territory. During the meeting, the US representative said that the “Moroccan autonomy Plan is an approach that could meet the aspirations of the population of Western Sahara.” At the same time, US ambassador Power said that her delegation continues to call for the return of MINURSO’s civil component to the Western Sahara.
Possible existence of conflicting views within the US Administration
What is striking when one analyses how the US conducted the negotiations that led to the adoption of Resolution 2285 is the total disconnect between what US officials repeated in public for several years and their actual position on the draft. It seems that the dialogue that John Kerry has mentioned between Morocco and the US was broken when the US mission decided to submit its first draft without consulting with Morocco.
This was evident when the US mission avoided contacts with the Moroccan mission ahead of the submission of the first draft to the Group of Friends. In addition, the first draft was submitted on Monday while Morocco’s Foreign Minister, Salaheddine Mezouar, was on his way to Washington to meet with US officials. This means the US officials who decided to go ahead with the first draft hurried to do so without waiting to know the conclusions of Mezouar’s meeting with his American counterparts.
The US move can be explained under two hypotheses: either the statements made by US officials were a mere smoke screen aimed at luring Moroccan officials, or there are conflicting views within the American administration, which prevent it from having a clear-cut position on the conflict.
In my opinion, while there is no doubt that Moroccans cannot expect clear support from the current US administration, the most plausible hypothesis that explains this disconnect between statements and actions is the existence of conflicting views at the highest level of the US administration. Here, I should point out that President Obama’s National Security Adviser since June 2013 is Susan Rice.
Observers know that Susan Rice was behind the draft resolution submitted by the US in 2013 which, for the first time, called for the expansion of MINURSO’s prerogatives to include the monitoring of human rights in the Western Sahara and the Tindouf camps. At the time, it was rumored that the decision was made by Rice without consulting with Washington.
Now with the benefit of hindsight, when one knows that Susan Rice was Obama’s first choice for Secretary of State to succeed Hillary Clinton, and also the influence of the National Security Adviser on the orientation of US foreign policy, the idea that Rice had taken the initiative to submit that controversial draft resolution makes more sense and seems more to reflect reality.
Based on this hypothesis, it appears more plausible that the US position in this year’s resolution and the unprecedented pressure it put on Morocco, was dictated by Susan Rice’s role in the cabinet, rather than by the Department of State. In an article that I published in June 2013, I had anticipated how Rice’s appointment as National Security Adviser would affect Morocco.
I believe that Morocco has anticipated this double rhetoric in the US position. This is what pushed King Mohammed VI in his speech at the Morocco-GCC summit in Riyadh on April 20 to say that some countries show “expressions of friendship and alliance on the one hand, and stab you in the back, on the other.”
Morocco-US relations have not reached a level of maturity
The position adopted by the US administration in recent years reveals not only conflicting views within the same administration, but also that the relations between Morocco and the United States have not reached a level of maturity that would make them immune from any change of administration. Unlike its relations with France and Spain, which have adopted in recent years a clear position with regards to the conflict irrespective of the party heading the government, the US-Morocco relations are still tributary to the party at the helm of the White House.
This is what prompted King Mohammed VI to say in his speech in Riyadh that Morocco has “a problem because of frequently changing governments in some of these countries. With every change, significant efforts have to be exerted to introduce new officials to all aspects of the Moroccan Sahara issue and to make them aware of its real implications.”
This is also what prompted King Mohammed VI to call on the US administration in November 2014 to clarify its position. During a speech he delivered on the 38th anniversary of the Green March on November 6, 2014, the Moroccan King highlighted the US’s ambiguous position on the conflict. “While valuing its support for Morocco’s efforts and for the negotiating process on the basis of the autonomy initiative, I am calling, today, for a clear position concerning this conflict,” he noted.
“At a time when [the administration] reaffirms that Morocco is a model for democratic development, an influential state in ensuring security and stability in the region and a partner in the fight against terrorism, there is some ambiguity in the way [the administration] deals with the question of its territorial integrity,” he added.
While I have the intimate conviction that Morocco cannot expect the current US administration to provide it with the support it deserves as a long-standing strategic ally, I believe Moroccan officials should devise a short-term, medium-term and long-term strategy aimed at overcoming the obstacles that prevent Morocco from enjoying the same level of relations of trust with the Democrats.
It is more likely that the next American President will be a Democrat. Though Hillary Clinton, who is perceived as a friend of Morocco, has more chances to win the US presidency than her competitors, Moroccans cannot take her support for Morocco’s position on the Sahara for granted. Hence the urgency to put in place a clear strategy to penetrate the Democrat circles that are still not convinced of Morocco’s strategic importance for the US or who hold unfriendly views of Morocco.
No matter what we can say about the role that other influential members of the Security Council play in the conflict, the main player remains the United States and the decision in this regards lies in Washington, hence the need for Morocco to strengthen its relations with the US at all levels while at the same time diversifying and balancing its relations with other major partners.
A shorter version of this article was published on the New Arab
Samir Bennis is the co-founder of and editor-in-chief of Morocco World News. You can follow him on Twitter @SamirBennis