“You cannot remain neutral” on the Western Sahara dossier, Paul Gosar stressed.
As a guest of the Medi1 TV broadcast “With Morocco from Washington” on June 28, the Republican congressman from Arizona said Polisario “espouses a Marxist ideology.”
Gosar urged President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to take a stance in the conflict, arguing, “You cannot remain neutral.”
He offered the example of Washington’s policy towards Iran, saying the Trump administration “stopped the flow of funds to Tehran and imposed a trade embargo that has damaged the Iranian economy.”
“In this same logic, speaking must go hand in hand with action on the ground. We must guarantee accountability,” he said.
Commending the strong partnership between Morocco and the United States, Gosar said the two countries’ bilateral cooperation “constitutes a pillar of diplomatic relations, through its contribution to peace and stability.”
Morocco is one of the countries with which the United States maintains excellent relations in terms of security cooperation, he continued.
The North African country is “extremely active in the fight against terrorism and against extremist ideologies alongside the promotion of the values of religious tolerance,” he said.
His statement echoes the praise for Morocco’s counterterrorism strategy found in the US State Department’s 2019 Country Report on Terrorism.
The report, published on June 24, described Morocco’s counterterrorism strategy as a solid mechanism to mitigate the risk of terrorism in the region. The country continues to face “sporadic” terror threats from independent ISIS-inspired cells but doubled the number of arrests related to terrorism in 2019 compared to 2018.
Gosar underlined the joint work that Morocco and the United States are carrying out on the front line in the fight against extremism through several international mechanisms such as the fight against terrorism in sub-Saharan Africa, the Global Counterterrorism Forum, and the Global Coalition Against Daesh.
Morocco, “by its secular history and its strategic position, is an essential partner of the United States,” the representative stressed.
The US and Western Sahara
Beginning in the 1970s, the US established itself as an ally to Morocco in the Western Sahara dispute and aided the country’s efforts to modernize its military.
The Carter administration (1977-1981) stifled this support by applying pre-conditions to weapons sales, insisting that Morocco must not use US military supplies in the Western Sahara conflict.
The Reagan administration (1981-1989) dropped Carter’s conditions and unshackled military support for the North African country, considering access to Morocco’s airfields strategically important.
The George H. W. Bush administration (1989-1993) sought to keep the US as the main supplier of equipment to Morocco’s armed forces, conducted joint military exercises with Morocco off the coast of Western Sahara, and sold the country desert terrain tanks.
Overt US support for Morocco’s territorial integrity appeared to wane in the late 1990s and the early 2000s, but two documents declassified in 2019 and 2020 tell a different story.
‘Sahara Policy History’
A seven-page document titled “Sahara Policy History” revealed in March 2019 that an American initiative in 1999 was the origin of Morocco’s 2007 Autonomy Plan. Morocco’s former ambassador to Washington, D.C., Aziz Mekour, appears to have written the document that illuminates US support for Morocco’s territorial integrity.
Morocco has, for over a decade, presented its Autonomy Plan as the only “realistic” and “feasible” compromise-based solution to the Western Sahara dispute. The plan suggests giving the population living in Western Sahara complete autonomy, on the condition that they remain under Morocco’s sovereignty.
“The present state of play on this issue is a direct result of an American initiative in 1999 to change course on how best to resolve the problem. The abandonment of the referendum option has been an American policy initiative, not a Moroccan one, and it took a very difficult internal political debate for Morocco to follow the American request to propose autonomy for the Sahara,” the declassified document explained.
The American initiative came after a US State Department review in December 1998 concluded the Algeria-backed referendum option was a “dead end” amid continued disagreements between Morocco and Polisario on voting logistics.
The US instead urged for a “negotiated, political solution to the problem” based on “continued Moroccan sovereignty in the Sahara, but with the granting of a broad and substantial (by international standards) autonomy for the territory,” according to the document.
The administration of former President Bill Clinton (1993-2001) encouraged Morocco to abandon the idea of a referendum in Western Sahara and “opt for a negotiated solution through direct talks with the Polisario,” according to a July 25, 1999 memo declassified in May 2020.
The document also revealed detailed instructions for Clinton on what to discuss with the newly installed King Mohammed VI after his father’s funeral, including Western Sahara and the Israel-Palestine conflict.
“Know we will continue to work closely together, on [the] peace process and on Western Sahara where a peaceful solution must be found,” read Clinton’s script, which was aflush with praise for the strong ties between the US and Morocco and support for the new King and government.
The document also instructed Clinton to encourage then Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to “continue the rapprochement with Rabat,” acknowledging that Algeria plays a key role in the Western Sahara conflict and “may be tempted to test the young King early on.”
Israeli lobbying enters the fray
The official position of the US government, according to a December 2008 Congressional Research Service report, is in support of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara.
“The United States supports the UN effort (MINURSO) and has urged the parties to focus on autonomy—a solution that would not destabilize its ally, Morocco,” the report stated.
However, despite the precedent set by Clinton and followed by George W. Bush (2001-2009), Trump, like his predecessor Barack Obama (2009-2017), has not yet publicly taken a stance on the regional dispute.
But even if Trump threw his weight behind Morocco, US support would not solve the Western Sahara issue—this can only be accomplished through direct negotiations between Morocco and Algeria. And Morocco may be hesitant to publicly embrace such support given Trump’s close relationship with Israel and damning speculations of the “normalization” of Rabat-Tel Aviv ties.
Given that Morocco is “an essential partner of the United States,” as Gosar and many others have said, both countries only stand to gain from stronger ties. As countries around the world voice their support for Morocco’s territorial integrity, Trump may eventually adopt the position of many presidents who came before him.