What will it take to broker a lasting and mutually agreed settlement to the four-decades-long conflict in Western Sahara?
Rabat – Days after the much-awaited Geneva meeting between stakeholders in the Western Sahara dispute failed to deliver significant overtures, Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, has expressed his “great frustration” over the lack of discernible settlement prospect in the Western Sahara conflict.
Speaking today at the Heritage Foundation, the US national security adviser, John Bolton, said he was concerned and “frustrated” that the territorial dispute in Western Sahara conflict has still not been resolved.
“I’d like to see this resolved if the parties can agree on the way forward. That’s the preference,” Bolton said in the Q&A session that followed his keynote address.
He mentioned his tenure as assistant to the UN’s former Personal Envoy, James Baker, as well as his tenure as Us ambassador to the United Nations, stressing that despite all the efforts made by James and Baker, the UN failed to bring an end to the conflict. Bolton voiced his frustration that after 27 years the conflict is still in standstill, and called on Algeria and Morocco to work out a formula to put an end to it.
During his address, the American official said that the United States will no longer support UN missions that have failed to fulfill their mandates.
He mentioned the Western Sahara conflict and stressed that the pressure that the US’s role in convincing the UN Security Council ro reduce the mandate of the UN mission in Western Sahara for six months only, as opposed to the traditional one-year period. The move came as a result of Washington’s determination to see the parties achieve real progress towards achieving a solution, Bolton explained.
Commenting on the UN peacekeeping mission in Africa, Bolton picked the Western Sahara conflict as his “favorite example” to criticize the UN MINURSO.
He said, “ Unfortunately, all to often at the United Nations, establishing the peacekeeping force and deploying is the end of creative thinking. And the mandate is renewed almost automatically. The Secretary General special representatives comes in every year , gives a report . The security council rolls the mandate over and not very much happen.”
Referring to his participation in 1991 in the drafting of the document that established the UN mission in Western Sahara, Bolton added, “I think there needs to be a lot more focus on resolving the underlying conflict and therefore having success in the peacekeeping mission. Success is not simply continuing the mission… and I pick the Western Sahara conflict as my favorite example.”
He also recalled his previous job with UN’s former personal envoy James Baker in 1997.
“When I got the UN in 2005-2006 , again we tried to fix … all what we wanna do is hold a referendum for 70,000 voters . 27 years later the status of the territory is still unresolved,” he emphasized.
“Ladies and gentlemen, 27 years of deployment of this peacekeeping force, 27 years and it’s still there? How can you justify that? I have got to know over the years the Saharawi people, I have enormous respect for them, I have enormous respect for the government and people of Morocco and Algeria, is there not a way to resolve it?” Bolton wondered with frustration.
Bolton’s statements followed UN roundtable in Geneva on December 5-6, which saw the participation of Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania and the Polisario.
The four parties expressed their satisfaction with the UN-led Geneva talks. The roundtable closed with an agreement from all parties to convene again in a similar early in 2019.
Although UN envoy Host Kohler has been lauded for managing to bring Morocco and Algeria around a common roundtable, the Geneva meeting has not totally dissipated old doubts. Dubbing the whole process as “business as usual,” some have pointed that it still remains to be seen whether the scheduled meeting in early 2019 will lay the ground for more diplomatic momentum.
Known for his reserved and somewhat unwelcoming attitude toward MINURSO, the UN peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara, Bolton has been credited with the recent US-led initiative to shorten the extension period of MINURSO’s mandate.
Instead of the ordinary one-year extension, he convinced Trump’s administration to opt for a shorter six-month mandate in order to heap pressure on the conflicting parties to find a quick political solution.
There have also been heightened concerns that Bolton might convince the US to cut financial contribution to MINURSO. Bolton has long criticized the peacekeeping body for its failure to fulfill its purpose in 27 years of existence.