In a televised interview, El Othmani suggested that Ceuta and Melilla are part of the Moroccan territory.
Rabat – Morocco’s Ambassador to Spain, Karima Benyaich, sought to reduce the tension that arose from the recent statement of Morocco’s Head of Government, Saad Eddine El Othmani, suggesting that the Spanish-controlled enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla are part of the Moroccan territory.
Speaking with Saudi television channel Al Sharq, El Othmani suggested that Morocco should begin discussing the situation of Ceuta and Melilla.
“Ceuta and Melilla are among the points on which it is necessary to open discussion,” El Othmani said.
“This file has been suspended for five to six centuries, but it will be reopened one day,” he added.
The two cities, which were part of Morocco for much of the medieval age, have been a source of contention since the 15th-16th centuries, when Spain claimed them.
Spanish diplomacy considered El Othmani’s statement as a challenge to the Iberian country’s “territorial integrity” and the Spanish Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Cristina Gallach, summoned the Moroccan ambassador for clarification.
During the meeting, Benyaich declared that Morocco’s position regarding Ceuta and Melilla is unchanged and the country considers them occupied territories, La Vanguardia reported.
However, she assured the Spanish official that El Othmani’s statement does not mean that Morocco will seek to bring the topic to the center of bilateral relations between the two countries.
According to La Vanguardia, Benyaich’s assurance that Morocco does not intend to challenge the status quo has calmed the concerns of the Spanish official.
Despite Benyaich’s diplomacy, however, tensions may be greater than publicly communicated.
Morocco, Spain, and the Western Sahara development
El Othmani’s statement came only a few days after the US recognized Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara—a major breakthrough for Moroccan diplomacy.
Some observers believe his remarks translate Morocco’s displeasure with lukewarm support and a lack of clarity about Western Sahara, from the region’s former colonial occupier, following the US’ decision.
Tensions between the two countries came to the fore in mid-November due to a tweet from Pablo Iglesias, Spain’s vice president and the leader of Podemos. On November 15, he indirectly called on the UN to allow the population of the Sahara to exercise their right to self-determination.
This was the real reason behind the decision to postpone the high level meeting scheduled for December 18 until next year.
Following the hostile tweet and Spain’s underwhelming reception of President Trump’s decision, Spanish newspaper El Espanol reported that Spain has contacted President-elect Biden’s team, attempting to convince him to reverse the decision and revert to multilateralism.
As Biden’s inauguration approaches, Benyaich may have more significant diplomatic developments to navigate in the coming months.