In December, Spain cited COVID-19 crisis to postpone the high level meeting. But observers saw in the move a diplomatic rift between Rabat and Madrid.
Rabat – The COVID-19 crisis might force the Spanish government to once again postpone a much-anticipated “high-level” meeting with Morocco.
EFE quoted Spanish government sources who said that the situation remains “very delicate” to hold a high-level meeting with Morocco in February.h
Initially, the meeting was set to take place in Rabat on December 17. But the Moroccan and Spanish government postponed the meeting, citing COVID-19 concerns.
“We will have to wait for the conditions to allow its development with all guarantees,” EFE’s sources said.
The sources said the Spanish government did not announce any new date for the high-level meeting yet.
Spain and Morocco have strong diplomatic ties, and officials from both countries have constantly vowed to see this collaboration advance at all levels.
Recently, however, a series of remarks by Morocco’s Head of Government Saad Eddine El Othmani on the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla added more uncertainty about the relations between Rabat and Rabat.
During an interview with Saudi television channel Al Shark, El Othmani suggested that Morocco should begin discussing the situation of Ceuta and Melilla.
In response, Spain summoned Morocco’s ambassador to Madrid, Karima Benyaich, for “consultations.”
Benyaich calmed the situation, but recalled that Morocco’s position regarding the two enclaves is clear. She said that Morocco considered Ceuta and Miella as occupied territories.
However, she assured Spain that El Othmani’s remarks do not mean that Morocco will seek to bring the topic to the center of bilateral cooperation between Rabat and Madrid.
In its report about a potential postponement of the Morocco-Spain meeting, EFE quoted its Spanish government sources as denying that the potential delay or postponement of the high-level meeting has anything to do with El Othmani’s remarks.
The sources claimed that Morocco knows the position of Spain regarding the Spanish enclaves.
They said “neither those words nor the Spanish position regarding the future of the [Western] Sahara are the cause of the new postponement of the meeting and that the only reason is the pandemic,” EFE wrote.
After former US President Donald Trump recognized Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara, the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement saying the territorial dispute can only be resolved through international consensus.
But the statement, which many in Rabat considered to be falsely neutral and tacitly hostile to Morocco’s sovereignty over its southern provinces, did not sit well with the Moroccan government.
“For Morocco, all these Spanish attitudes go against the exemplary nature of the relations between the two countries,” foreign policy expert and Morocco World News editor-in-chief Samir Bennis argued in a recent debate.
Bennis put his finger on the subtle but relatively discernible foreign policy disagreements between Rabat and Madrid, arguing that Rabat expects more strenuous support from Madrid on a question as crucial for Moroccan interests as the Moroccans of Western Sahara.
Meanwhile, he added, both Morocco and Spain are aware that the status of Ceuta and Melilla will remain a hot-button topic. But this, he argued, can wait for a “more opportune” time.
While the Spanish media — EFE’s report being the latest example — and their Spanish “government sources” continue to obsess over the exact date of the “high-level” meeting between Morocco and Spain, Rabat is yet to officially address the matter.
In fact, when Madrid and Rabat announced in December their decision to postpone the meeting, Spanish officials said the meeting would take place in February. In Rabat, meanwhile, there was no mention of any date.
For some observers, the Moroccan government’s official stance — that the meeting is off “until further notice” — could indicate that the rift between the two allies has still not been settled.
Another interpretation is that, as indicated in Moroccos’ recent moves to garner more international support for its Western Sahara position, the “high-level” meeting with Spain does not appear to be on Rabat’s list of diplomatic priorities at the moment.
In recent weeks, the Spanish government has repeatedly held out an olive branch to Morocco by distancing itself from, and strongly condemning, pro-Polisario agitations from some Spanish politicians. But it remains to be seen whether Rabat’s apparent firmness on what it expects from its allies can lead to further concessions — or compromises — from Madrid.