US Senator James Inhofe led a congressional delegation to the Tindouf camps, days after President Trump signed a Morocco-friendly spending bill and ahead of the second Geneva meeting on the Western Sahara conflict.
Rabat – A 17-member US delegation led by Senator James Inhofe visited the Tindouf camps on Sunday.
Providing no details, pro-Polisario news agency RPS reported that the congressional visit was part of the international community’s ongoing agenda to find a lasting and mutually acceptable settlement in Western Sahara.
The American delegation was received on Sunday by Brahim Ghali, the secretary general of the Polisario Front.
The 17-member delegation consisted of six elected officials from the US Congress, including Senator Inhofe, chairman of the US Senate Armed Services Committee, and Senator Enzi Michael Bradley, the finance committee chairman.
The delegation, which was earlier spotted on Sunday, February 24, in Algiers, met with Algerian Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia before meeting with the Polisario leadership later on the same day.
A devout Polisario supporter
According to some reports, both visits were prepared and coordinated by Keene Consulting Services and Foley Hoag, two U.S lobbying firms hired by Algeria to influence Washington establishment in favor of Polisairo’s self-determination claims.
Foley Hoag has been lobbying for Algiers for two decades, while Keene Consulting Services, which is helmed by Republican mogul David Keene, recently signed a $30,000-per-month lobbying deal with the Algerian government.
Keene has since been the leading force behind the aggressive Algerian public relations breakthroughs in Washington policy circles, according to diplomatic sources.
Senator Inhofe is among the few conservative US figures to express reservations on Morocco’s Western Sahara claims.
Like Keene, Senator Inhofe is a well-known supporter of the “Sahrawi cause.” He has been a vocal pro-Polisario voice in the US Congress. He has constantly pushed for “Sahrawi independence” and called on Morocco to organize a referendum to “end the suffering of the Sahrawi people.”
A regular visitor
The congressional visit comes as the Polisario Front prepares to celebrate the 43rd anniversary of the establishment of SADR. The date coincides with the start of hostilities between Morocco and the Polisario Front (supported by Algeria) in the 1970s.
But the visit is not the senator’s first trip to the region.
Known in some pro-Polisario circles as “a great friend of Western Sahara,” Senator Inhofe has paid a number of visits to Western Sahara and to the Tindouf camps over the border in Algeria.
In August 2017, invoking such a visit, the senator single-handedly engaged in a congressional fight to delay a key American diplomatic move in US-African affairs.
Inhofe cited divergences within congress on the Western Sahara question as the motive of his move, saying that Washington ought to adopt a much tougher—and Morocco-hostile—stance on the conflict.
His position is more clearly outlined in a June 2010 statement.
“The people of the Western Sahara have languished in desert camps for more than 30 years as the conflict has gone unresolved,” he said. “I have visited the camps and have seen with my own eyes that their story is one of determination, persistence and hope that one day they will enjoy the basic rights all humans deserve—the right to life and to self-determination.”
In his press statement following the Sunday meeting with Polisario’s leader, the senator made similar statements. He said that the visit testified to “President Trump’s commitment to the freedom of this people that he will undoubtedly recover.”
Despite Inhofe’s assurance that President Trump wants to “recover” freedom in Western Sahara, recent news from Washington, D.C., does not buttress his rhetoric.
For all the mixed messages that characterize the Trump administration’s foreign policy, including in Western Sahara, the most recent development hinted that Washington is moving back to its traditional line of supporting its Moroccan ally.
Meanwhile, the visit comes shortly before the second Geneva meeting in March between conflicting parties under the auspices of UN envoy Host Kohler.
While some deep-seated divergences remain, there is hope that the ongoing process will incrementally achieve a mutually agreed upon political settlement.