US officials enthuse about US-Morocco relations, saying Morocco is a “robust” and “amazing” partner.
Rabat – The US Department of State has published the transcript of a briefing session with two senior US officials following their recent visit to Morocco with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
The transcript, which appears to have been published much earlier this month, is now available on the US State Department’s website. The document, does not, however, reveal the identity of the two officials.
Pompeo arrived in Rabat on December 5. He was accompanied by several senior US officials and had several meetings with Moroccan ministers and other high-ranking officials to boost the “strategic cooperation” between Rabat and Washington.
The discussions addressed several topics of shared interests, according to the two officials who seemed optimistic about the prospects of cooperation and partnership between Morocco and the US.
The topics discussed included the role of Morocco in Africa and in the Arab world, the terrorist threats in the Sahel, Morocco’s position on Iran and Hezbollah, the economic influence of China, and the future of American investments in Morocco.
A “shared threat perception”
The two officials expressed the strength of the partnership between Morocco and the US, especially in areas of counterterrorism and threat prevention.
“We’ve got a lot in common with Morocco. We have a shared regional, I think, threat perception. We have excellent mil-to-mil cooperation and counterterrorism cooperation… It’s just a good-news story – the relationship,” said the first official.
“They are a robust partner,” he said while recalling the joint military exercises with the Moroccan Royal Army: “We do more military exercises, training with Morocco – dozens if not a hundred a year… They’re the largest ones in the continent.”
Morocco is “hawkish” against Iran
The US officials expressed their surprise that the Moroccan officials were the ones to bring Iran into discussion.
“It struck me – even in the foreign minister meeting – that this is one of the few meetings where we don’t bring up Iran first, that they were the first ones to bring up their concern about the financing of terrorism, the presence – or the influence of Hezbollah and of Iran in the region, and they were certainly quite hawkish,” noted the second official.
His colleague mentioned the extradition of a Lebanese businessman linked to Hezbollah to the US after his arrest in Morocco.
He then went on to talk about some “points of cooperation that might be so obvious,” giving the example of Venezuela.
“Yeah. No, it’s amazing. I mean, so Morocco is a state that recognizes the Guaido government and is encouraging other states in Africa to recognize Guaido. They recognize the sort of pernicious, damaging ideology of Maduro and are helping promote that cause on the continent. So it’s great,” he explains.
The official keeps on elaborating on the partnership between the US and Morocco to halt Iran’s influence in the region: “Morocco has its own interests in the regard, right? Iran is a regionally destabilizing force and has done activities that have proved destabilizing or attempted to be destabilizing in Morocco. So Morocco has excluded Iran – Iranian diplomats, for example, in the past, right? They are a partner. They support what we’re doing vis-a-vis the maximum pressure campaign.”
Israel was not a discussion topic
When asked about normalization with Israel, both officials said that it wasn’t a topic of discussion.
“I don’t have a comment about – on that either, but to tell you the truth, that – it wasn’t a topic of discussion. I woke up today. I read the Times of Israel just like you guys did. And it struck me as just another Israeli leak to the press of their own issue. But it was coincident with our trip, but it wasn’t on our agenda,” one of them answered, denying reports by several Israeli and Moroccan news outlets about normalization with Israel being on the visit’s agenda.
The US fears the Chinese influence
The officials have also discussed the Chinese economic influence with their Moroccan counterparts. However, they did not give any details about the discussion.
One official mentioned that Morocco recognizes “the challenges posed by Chinese involvement” without providing any explanation.
Counterterrorism in the Sahel
After citing recent arms purchases by the Moroccan Royal Armed Forces, the officials recalled that Morocco deploys “a huge number of peacekeepers throughout the region.”
“They (Morocco) are also active in sort of counterterrorism initiatives along their borders,” he continued.
The officials mention ISIS and al-Qaeda as Morocco’s “adversaries on their borders.”
Morocco wants to attract American investors
The State Department officials announced that Morocco wants to strengthen its business cooperation with the US, specifically through investments.
“They want American companies. They have a number of American companies that are doing business there,” says one of the officials.
No advancement on Western Sahara
The officials mentioned the Western Sahara question as well, albeit briefly. When asked if the conflict is getting closer to resolution, one of the officials said that there was no progress made on the matter during the trip.
“No, I mean, we’re about to get, as you know, a new representative from the UN. But – so there’s no advancement at all on that (Western Sahara conflict) from the trip.”