Spain and Morocco Mend Their Relationship Whereas Spain and Algeria’s Splinters

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez lately wrote to Moroccan King Mohammed VI that Morocco’s autonomy plan for the Western Sahara is the one “critical, practical, and credible” resolution to the battle there. Sanchez’s letter marked a shocking reversal in Spanish coverage that has roiled diplomatic relations within the area.

Morocco is a vital American ally. Its stability within the turbulent North Africa area helps shield in opposition to the opportunism of American rivals corresponding to Iran. As a participant within the Abraham Accords, Morocco can be a part of the rising rapprochement between Israel and Arab international locations, and it cooperates carefully with the U.S. on counterterrorism initiatives.

The standing of Western Sahara is a fragile concern within the bilateral relationship, although over the past 15 years the U.S. has more and more backed Morocco’s place. Since 2007, when describing Rabat’s plan—which might grant Western Sahara vital autonomy whereas affirming Moroccan sovereignty—U.S. officers have used the identical “critical, credible, and practical” formulation that Sanchez lately employed.

By far the most important improvement since 2007 in U.S. coverage towards the Western Sahara occurred in December 2020, when former President Donald Trump acknowledged Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara as a quid professional quo for Rabat’s accession to the Abraham Accords.

To this point, the Biden administration has not revoked Trump’s act. It has additionally affirmed its help for the Moroccan autonomy plan, most lately in March 2022 when Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated the “critical, credible, and practical” chorus.

In distinction, Spain historically selected to help the place of the Polisario Entrance, an armed group preventing for Western Saharan independence. Consequently, its relationship with Morocco had lengthy been troublesome, and worsened a yr in the past when the secretary-general of the Polisario Entrance, Brahim Ghali, was hospitalized with COVID-19 in a Spanish navy hospital. Spain hosted Ghali as a favor to Algeria, which funds the Polisario Entrance and gives greater than 40% of Spain’s pure fuel.

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After practically a yr of stress with Morocco, Spain made its shock endorsement of Rabat’s plan for the Western Sahara, and Morocco reinstated its ambassador to Madrid that it had recalled throughout the top of the tensions.

The rapprochement predictably angered Algeria, nevertheless, which is at loggerheads with Morocco on a wide range of points. The connection is so poisonous that Algeria shut down the Maghreb-Europe fuel pipeline in October 2021 in an effort to strangle Morocco’s entry to pure fuel.

In response to Spain’s change of coronary heart on the Western Sahara, Algeria broke out the identical playbook by threatening to cease transport fuel to Spain, recalled its ambassador to Spain, and suspended its 2 a long time outdated friendship treaty with Spain.

The Spanish-Algerian frostiness comes at a time when North Africa—and Algeria particularly—have assumed larger geopolitical significance as potential alternate options for Europe to Russian fuel. But Algeria is an outdated Russian ally, and Russian Overseas Minister Sergei Lavrov visited final month to reaffirm the friendship. Algeria’s standoff with Spain has not affected its willingness to assist the remainder of Europe break its Russian fuel habit, but additionally it is unlikely to dial again its friendliness with Moscow.

Moroccan-Algerian frictions, in the meantime, will proceed and even perhaps escalate as one other domino—an enormous one in Spain—falls in Morocco’s quest for decisive worldwide help for its claims on the Western Sahara.

The U.S. ought to hold encouraging Morocco to not simply stay within the Abraham Accords however to deepen its participation. Whereas Algeria doubtless distrusts the U.S. due to its closeness with Morocco, Washington ought to nonetheless provide to mediate—or encourage a 3rd nation to take action—the tensions between it and Spain and Morocco, significantly as Algeria will doubtless solely develop in significance as a substitute supply to Russian fuel.

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The protracted nature of the tensions over the Western Sahara has sapped American policymakers’ consideration, however significantly given North Africa’s elevated prominence due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Washington could be smart to refresh its consideration towards this delicate and vital area.

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