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Western Sahara: Russia Says Algeria Should Negotiate as ‘Observer State’

Western Sahara, morocco

Rabat – A spokesperson of the Russian foreign affairs ministry has said Algeria should join Western Sahara peace talks as an “observer state.”

Maria Zakhorova, the spokesperson for the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, made the remarks Wednesday, August 15, during a policy briefing in which she addressed major security challenges around the world.

Of the decades-long territorial dispute in Western Sahara, Zakhorova said that Russia is deeply concerned with the fragile status quo in the area.

Russia believes that all players and stakeholders should show enough engagement to facilitate an agreed upon and mutually acceptable political settlement to the longstanding crisis in Sahara, Zakhorova said.

Regarding Algeria’s position, however, she underlined Moscow’s traditional position: only Morocco and the Polisario Front are chiefly concerned with negotiations, and Algeria should be asked to get involved, but only as an observer.

The Russian ministry also expressed satisfaction with the UN secretary-general’s personal envoy’s recent tour in the region, saying that Horst Kohler is gathering momentum in the right direction by trying to commit all parties to negotiations.

But Zakhorova insisted that full involvement in the peace negotiations should only concern Morocco and the Polisario Front. “We support this approach and do not see any sensible alternative to searching for a compromise based on the well-known resolutions of the Security Council and the UN General Assembly within the framework of procedures consistent with the UN Charter’s principles and goals.

“We note with satisfaction that Horst Kohler, Personal Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Western Sahara and former President of Germany, is stepping up efforts to get the peace process going by resuming direct talks without preconditions between the two protagonists, including neighboring Algeria and Mauritania as observers.”

According to the Russian official, part of the reason for the conflict’s escalation is the lack of genuine engagement from all stakeholders.

“The efforts to develop an acceptable conflict resolution approach for the parties to the conflict—Morocco and the POLISARIO Front—undertaken under the auspices of the United Nations have been repeatedly disrupted for various reasons. Meanwhile, the fragile local status quo causes serious concern, because it is fraught with major challenges to regional security.”

Diverging interests

Russia, a known Algerian ally, has traditionally been wary of UN-led peace talks on the Western Sahara question.

In April, Russia initially stood in the way of a UN Security Council resolution on the extension of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), deferring the UN’s extension of the security body’s mandate in the buffer zone. Russia hoped to water down the supposed bias of the first draft and make the resolution friendlier to the position of its Algerian ally.

And although Moscow unexpectedly refrained from vetoing the resolution draft when it came forward again, on April 28, the country’s deputy permanent representative to the UN, Vladmir Safronkov, cast doubt on the reliability of the UN draft.

“The text is unbalanced,” he said, claiming that the US-drafted resolution was slightly one-sided and that “a number of suggestions by other Security council members remained unanswered.”

Horst Kohler urged all stakeholders last week to show genuine commitment and responsibility to finally find an agreed upon and mutually acceptable political solution to the decades-long territorial dispute in Western Sahara.

But with open divergences between key players, including between Algeria and Morocco and between the US and Russia, Kohler’s peace talk plans may hit bigger obstacles than expected.

MINURSO’s mandate was extended for a six-month period in April. The Security Council is set to meet in October to decide whether the body’s mandate needs further extension.

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