Rabat – Confidential documents recently released by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) suggest that the late King Hassan II of Morocco was “plotting an armed attack” against Spain in the 1970s over Western Sahara.
According to a document entitled “Memorandum of Conversation,” which was made public by the US Department of State, the former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger informed Madrid that the late King Hassan II was planning to launch a war against Spain in October 1975, a month before Morocco’s peaceful Green March.
In a conversation between Kissinger and former Spanish Foreign Minister Pedro Crotina, the American diplomat said that the US had “some information concerning a possible Moroccan attack in the Sahara.”
“I want you to know that we have urged the King of Morocco not to do it, that is, not to do anything rash. We have warned him against it and have urged him to negotiate, just as I urge you to negotiate,” he added.
Spain answered that it was ready to negotiate with Morocco. “We have said that we would do so. However, it is important to maintain the form of a referendum on self-determination with guarantees negotiations and ensures satisfaction to the parties,” referring to Morocco and the so-called Polisario Front.
“Self-determination does not mean independence, although that is one of the options included to give it credibility, but what the people of the area will be called on to do is to show their preference either for Morocco or for Mauritania,” added Crotina.
The Spanish official claimed that Morocco had not only been willing to attack Spain but also Algeria, due to the fact that Algeria had been backing the self-proclaimed separatist group.
“They can’t be that crazy . . . . I sent a letter to the King urging him against taking precipitous action,” said Kissinger.
A month later, in a monumental speech King Hassan II called on Moroccan citizens to march to the Sahara on November 1975, in order to protest the Spanish occupation and to take back its occupied territories.
The demonstration saw 350,000 unarmed Moroccans gather together in Tarfaya and peacefully head into the Sahara in order to force Spain out of the southern territories.
Roots of the conflict
The Western Sahara conflict started in 1859 after Spain defeated Morocco in the Battle of Tetouan. Subsequently, Morocco was forced to pay a monetary remuneration to Spain and to cede part of its southern and northern territories to Madrid. As part of the deal Morocco was forced to accept, Spain was supposed to establish a trading post in southern Morocco. Between 1859, many locations were under consideration, including Agadir and Cap Juby, or present day Tarfaya.
Spain’s plans changed, however, in 1879 after an English businessmen called Donald McKenzie established a trading post in Cap Juby. Immediately thereafter, Spain moved to establish trading posts south of Cap Juby, in present day Western Sahara. To give legal cover to its encroachment on Moroccan territory, Spain signed treaties with tribal leaders. At the Berlin Conference in 1885, Spain informed European powers that it had acquired sovereignty over the Western Sahara, arguing that the territory was a “no man’s land.”
Spain’s claim to the territory was nullified by the treaty signed between Morocco and Great Britain in March 1895. By virtue of the treaty, London recognized that the territory between Cap Juby (an area near Tarfaya) and Cap Boujdor belong to Morocco: “No power can lay claims to the lands that are between Oued Draa and Cap Boujdor, because those lands belong to the territory of Morocco.”
Spain’s takeover of the Western Sahara was made possible thanks to its closed-door deals with France and the latter’s non fulfilment of its legal obligations. Spain’s control of the territory became a reality after the treaty it signed with Paris in October 1904, in which France and Spain divided their spheres of influence in Morocco.
According to the treaty, Spain was given full possession of and sovereignty over the Western Sahara. That treaty was finalized in total disregard of international law and France’s previous legal commitment. In April 1904, Great Britain and France signed a treaty by virtue of which Paris was given free reign over Morocco. The treaty was accompanied by a single accord. Article 3 of the secret accord signed between the two countries stipulates that France could not give the Sahara in full possession to Spain, but rather as part of its spheres of influence in Morocco.
In 1912, Morocco came officially under France and Spain’s protectorate, France taking over central Morocco and the country’s main cities, and Spain being given control over northern and southern Morocco. Tangier was given an international status.
Immediately after Morocco obtained its independence in November 1956, it reasserted its claim to the Western Sahara and called on Spain to return it to Morocco’s sovereignty. Two decades of failed negotiations followed between Morocco and Spain due to Madrid’s unwillingness to cede its control over the territory, and King Hassan II launched the Green March, which took place in November 1975.
That historic event allowed Morocco its de facto sovereignty over the territory. Ever since, the Western Sahara has been challenged by the Polisario Front, a separatist movement supported by Algeria, which claims to represent the Saharawis and seeks to establish an independent state in southern Morocco.
The efforts led by the United Nations since 1991 to broker a solution have failed due to the irreconcilable positions of Morocco and the Polisario. While the Polisario has sought to establish an independent state in southern Morocco and has been adamant in calling on the United Nations to hold a referendum of self-determination in the territory, Morocco has repeatedly stated that autonomy is the most it can offer as part of a mutually acceptable political solution to the territorial dispute.