Morocco and Spain mend diplomatic row after Spanish move to Western Sahara

Morocco said on Thursday it would open a new page in its relations with Spain, seemingly ending a diplomatic crisis after Madrid backed Rabat on the issue of sovereignty over Western Sahara. During a meeting in Rabat, King Mohammed VI and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez “reiterated their desire to open a new phase, based on mutual respect, mutual trust, permanent consultation and frank and loyal cooperation “, indicates a press release from the Royal Palace. Thursday.

He also said that Sanchez had reaffirmed a position he expressed last month, describing Morocco’s autonomy plan for Western Sahara as “the most serious, realistic and credible basis” for resolving the conflict. Spain’s statement last month showed a shift in the country’s policy in favor of Morocco’s claim to the territory, a former Spanish colony, where the Algerian-backed Polisario Front seeks to establish an independent state.

The change was heavily criticized in Spain where a large majority of lawmakers, including from the left and right opposition as well as Unidas Podemos, the junior government partner of Pedro Sanchez’s Socialist Party, voted in favor of a resolution against the change. of foreign policy. “What is not understandable is this turnaround by the Socialist Party,” Labor Minister Yolanda Diaz of Unidas Podemos said after the vote. “I suspect it’s related to the Prime Minister’s trip.”

Spain is Morocco’s main trading partner and the two countries have worked together on issues such as migration, counter-terrorism and energy. This diplomatic decision, however, has strained relations between Madrid and Morocco’s great rival in the region, Algeria, which supplies gas to Spain.

Relations between Spain and Morocco turned frosty last year after Spain admitted Polisario leader Brahim Ghali for medical treatment, without officially informing Rabat. While he was hospitalized, Moroccan authorities appeared to ease border controls with Ceuta, a Spanish enclave in northern Morocco, leading to an influx of at least 8,000 migrants, most of whom were later returned.

Spanish support for the autonomy plan comes after similar positions from the United States, Germany, France, Israel and other countries in Africa and the Arab world. The Polisario Front and Algeria reject autonomy and insist on holding a referendum on independence.

The United Nations has urged the parties to the conflict to negotiate in a spirit of compromise towards a “mutually acceptable solution”.

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