The US Congress included Western Sahara in the Morocco section of a bill, a pro-Morocco move that comes amid a flurry of questions on the depth of the US-Morocco relations.
Rabat – The US Congress has approved a draft bill with a section on Morocco that includes Western Sahara, an overtly pro-Morocco move set to pour some cold water on mounting suggestions that US-Morocco relations are not as strong as the two allies officially claim.
Adopted yesterday, the draft which was obtained by Morocco World News is a massive, $1.4 trillion omnibus bill packaging provisions for the State Department for fiscal year 2020. It makes “appropriations for the Department of State, foreign operations, and related programs for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2020, and for other purposes,” according to the US House of Representatives.
Covering US assistance funds to Morocco in part (h) of the section on the Middle East and North Africa, the bill adopts a clearly pro-Morocco tone by including Western Sahara in the US’ financial provisions for Rabat.
“‘Development Assistance’ and ‘Economic Support Fund’ in this Act shall be made available for assistance for the Western Sahara: Provided, That not later than 90 days after enactment of this Act and prior to the obligation of such funds, the Secretary of State, in consultation with the USAID Administrator, shall consult with the Committees on Appropriations on the proposed uses of such funds,” reads part of the draft’s Morocco section.
The inclusion of Western Sahara in the Morocco section points to an implicit drift towards Rabat’s claims on the disputed territory, a validation of the warm ties between Rabat and Washington, despite reports of some low points in the bilateral alliance.
The language and tone of the draft bill echoe that of the 2019 spending bill, with both the US Senate and President Trump last year green lighting a sweeping spending bill whose language was also supportive of the Moroccan position. On that occasion, the Moroccan foreign ministry expressed satisfaction with a bill it said evinced an unmistakable pro-Morocco feel.
One notable difference from last year’s spending bill, however, has to do with the case of the Tindouf camps. There is no mention of the distressed Sahrawis in the Polisario-run camps in the Congress’ draft bill, whereas last year’s spending bill included a paragraph that spoke of “vulnerable refuges in North Africa,” alluding to the Tindouf camp residents.
The paragraph called for more coordinated actions from US and UN officials to monitor food and financial assistance for the residents of the Tindouf camps, an implicit condemnation of the Polisario leadership’s reported embezzlement and mismanagement humanitarian assistance for the Sahrawis in Tindouf.
But congressional stamp is only the beginning of a much longer, arduous legislative process. As the proposed draft is still to go through senatorial and presidential approvals, it remains to be seen what the final version of the bill will look like and whether the Senate may consider adding the paragraph on the conditions in the Tindouf camps, Algeria.
Given the direction the US-Morocco has been taking in recent months, however, a complete reversal—in language or principle— of the congress’ proposed draft is highly unlikely.
In the meantime, the Congress’ move comes at a charged time for US-Morocco relations. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently visited Morocco, and the episode has been touted by both Moroccan and US officials as one of the clearest embodiments of the strength and strategic depth of the “strategic relationship” between the two allies.
Morocco is widely acknowledged as one of the strongest US allies in the MENA region. But while Rabat does greatly value its partnership with its American ally, there is a feeling in Morocco that Washington has not been as supportive as it should be on some issues of the utmost importance for Moroccan interests, including explicit support for Morocco’s territorial claims on Western Sahara.
Even as it silently laments a lack of decisive US support for its Western Sahara position, however, Rabat is understood to pin its hopes on the fact that the proliferation of symbolic pro-Morocco calls from Washington—visits of senior, key faces of the administration, as well as friendly legislative moves—are good omens for the long term.