Details surrounding the ministerial meeting on Morocco’s autonomy plan have been sparse.
Rabat – Morocco and the US are hosting a virtual conference on the Moroccan autonomy plan for Western Sahara today. The US State Department and Morocco’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs is discussing the proposal with 40 other nations. While the conference appears to involve high-level ministers and cover a topic of national importance, Morocco’s officials have remained quiet about the event.
Despite its prestigious nature, save for a few social media reports, little was known about today’s conference prior to it occurring. As the conference concluded the government released most information on the event.
‘The only just and realistic solution’
US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker spoke to participants. Schenker stated that “Morocco’s autonomy initiative is the only just and realistic solution.” He told the long list of attendees that “the international community should be supportive of Morocco’s autonomy plan as the realistic solution.”
Schenker affirmed he spoke on behalf of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who he said is “very supportive of this gathering and what we are trying to accomplish through this meeting.” He added that ”we believe that negotiations should be within the framework of Morocco’s autonomy initiative.”
Morocco’s Foreign Affairs Minister Nasser Bourita also spoke, despite his ministry’s lack of communication prior to the event. Bourita told the US and 40 participating nations that “we meet at a time when the issue of the Moroccan Sahara is experiencing a strong acceleration.”
Bourita emphasized that “the US Presidential Proclamation has not emerged from a vacuum, it is the result of decades of strong bipartisan support to the Moroccan autonomy initiative.”
Bourita’s opening remarks revealed that he co-chaired the event with Schenker, and that “despite short notice” 40 nations attended. 27 ministers personally took part in the conference. Bourita referred to the Western Sahara as a remnant of the Cold War, stating that “it has gone on for far too long.”
Bourita highlighted that diplomatic momentum was leading to “an acceleration of transformational developments,” emphasizing progress at the UN, US recognition of sovereignty and widespread support for the autonomy plan among UN member states. He furthermore highlighted how Morocco’s autonomy plan was serious, credible and realistic.
“The Autonomy Initiative is not a mere intellectual concept,” Bourita told attendees. “It is a pragmatic political path, a societal project and a constructive solution, which is already on the move,” he stated in a speech that was clearly intended to inspire and convince his fellow ministers from the long list of nations.
The UAE’s Foreign Affairs Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan stated that his country expressed “unwavering support” for Morocco’s position. He added that the UAE “welcomes the decision of the US to open a consulate in the Moroccan Sahara.”
Organized on short notice
Besides quotes from Moroccan and US officials, the specific purpose of the event related to Morocco’s autonomy plan and which countries are in attendance were initially shrouded in mystery.
Attending African nations included Benin, Burkina Faso, Comoros, Djibouti, the DRC, Eswatini, Equitorial Guinee, Gabon, Gambia, Guinea, Guinee Bissau, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Malawi, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Togo and Zambia.
The Middle East region was represented by Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Yemen
Several countries from the Caribbean and the Americas were also present. Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Jamaica and Saint Lucia
From Asia, the Maldives, Papua New Guinea, Tonga joined the conference while France was the only EU member state in attendance according to government communication.
In recent days several countries have shown a noticeable reluctance in criticizing Morocco’s foreign policy. Spanish press lashed out at Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska for the diplomatic language he used on Thursday that appeared to avoid confronting Morocco. On the same day, the German foreign affairs committee blocked a hostile proposal from entering discussions in Parliament.