Spain PM in Morocco to mend ties after Western Sahara shift

Apr 6, 2022, 11:30 AM | Updated: Apr 7, 2022, 3:21 pm
In this photo provided by the Royal Palace, Moroccan King Mohammed VI, center, Spain's Prime Minist...

In this photo provided by the Royal Palace, Moroccan King Mohammed VI, center, Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, second left, Crown Prince Moulay Hassan, second right, Prince Moulay Rachid, the king's brother, right, and Morocco's Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch, left, pose before an Iftar meal, the evening meal when Muslims end their daily Ramadan fast at sunset, at the King Royal residence in Sale, Morocco, Thursday, April 7, 2022. Sanchez is on a two-day visit to Morocco that promises to mark an easing of diplomatic tensions centered on Morocco's disputed region of Western Sahara. (Moroccan Royal Palace via AP)

(Moroccan Royal Palace via AP)

RABAT, Morocco (AP) — Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez traveled to Rabat on Thursday to meet with Moroccan King Mohammed VI seeking to mark the end of diplomatic tensions centered on Morocco’s disputed region of Western Sahara.

“Today is an important day for Spain and Morocco because we initiate a new phase of bilateral relations,” Sánchez said after meeting with the King before they shared, along with family members, the Iftar meal to break the day’s fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Relations between the two countries separated by the Strait of Gibraltar were severely frayed last April. Morocco was angered by Spain allowing the leader of the pro-independence movement for Western Sahara to receive medical treatment for COVID-19 at a Spanish hospital on request by Morocco’s neighbor Algeria, an ally of pro-independence Sahrawis.

Morocco responded by loosening its border controls around Spain’s North Africa enclave of Ceuta, provoking the unauthorized crossing of thousands of young Moroccans and migrants from other African countries.

The mood did not improve until last month, when Sánchez took the surprising decision that angered many of his political allies back home to alter Spain’s long-standing position on Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony that’s largely barren but rich in phosphates and faces fertile fishing grounds in the Atlantic Ocean. Morocco annexed it in 1976.

In a letter to King Mohammed, Sánchez backed Morocco’s plan to give more autonomy to Western Sahara as long as it remains unquestionably under Moroccan grip.

Morocco, in turn, sent back its ambassador to Spain 10 months after she was recalled.

After their meeting on Thursday, King Mohammed’s Royal Office issued a statement saying Sánchez “reaffirmed the position of Spain on the Sahara issue, considering the Moroccan autonomy initiative as the most serious, realistic and credible basis for resolving the dispute.”

The Royal Office added that the leaders “agreed in particular to implement concrete actions in the framework of a roadmap covering all areas of the partnership, integrating all issues of common interest.”

Facing immense political pressure back in Spain for the policy change regarding Western Sahara, Sánchez needed to show some real gains from the meeting. He emerged with a commitment by Morocco to “progressively” reopen the frontiers with Ceuta and its sister enclave, Melilla, which had been closed since the start of the pandemic starting at a date to be determined. Maritime traffic of ferries that carry hundreds of thousands of travelers from Europe to visit family in Northern Africa at holidays will also be reinitiated, Sánchez said.

The Spanish leader said that both governments agreed to hold another meeting of high-level officials before the end of the year.

Morocco has grown in strategic importance to Spain over the past decade. Rabat is considered critical both in the fight against radical jihadi groups as well as in holding back increasing numbers of African migrants who want to reach Europe as they flee violence and poverty.

Sánchez and Spanish Foreign Minister José Albares have insisted that Spain continues to support the resolution of the Western Sahara question via a United Nations-backed referendum.

But the drive to appease Morocco has earned Sánchez sharp criticism both in Madrid and in Algiers.

His Socialist Party on Thursday lost a parliamentary motion backed by all the other parties, including the junior member in the government coalition, condemning the tilt toward Rabat. Its political opponents accuse Sánchez of having betrayed the Sahrawi people while getting nothing tangible in return from Morocco.

“Morocco has achieved one of its permanent demands in foreign policy, but I don’t think my country has received anything in exchange,” said Alberto Núñez Feijóo, the conservative leader of the main opposition party, after meeting with the primer minister ahead of the trip to Rabat and calling the government’s move “inadmissible” and a U-turn on 40 years of diplomacy.

Potentially even more problematic for Sánchez is the damage to relations with Algeria, which has recalled its ambassador to Spain in a sign of its continued support for the Western Sahara independence movement. Spain, while having a relatively low dependence on fossil fuel imports compared to other European Union countries, receives natural gas from Algeria via a pipeline and tankers carrying liquified natural gas.

Laurence Thieux, professor of Islamic Studies at the Autonomous University of Madrid, said that she was surprised by the “scant consideration of Algeria in the decision” by Spain to tilt toward Morocco in the Western Sahara dispute.

“I have the feeling that Spain’s government, like many other European governments, is managing crises that force them to take short-term decisions,” Thieux said. “From the other shore (of the Mediterranean) there is a different sense of time because they are authoritarian governments that have perspectives that stretch beyond the next election.”

___ Joseph Wilson reported from Barcelona, Spain

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Associated Press

Starbucks leader grilled by Senate over anti-union actions

Longtime Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz faced sharp questioning Wednesday before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee
1 day ago
FILE - The overdose-reversal drug Narcan is displayed during training for employees of the Public H...
Associated Press

FDA approves over-the-counter Narcan; here’s what it means

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday approved selling naloxone without a prescription, the first over-the-counter opioid treatment.
1 day ago
FILE - A Seattle police officer walks past tents used by people experiencing homelessness, March 11...
Associated Press

Seattle, feds seek to end most oversight of city’s police

  SEATTLE (AP) — The U.S. Justice Department and Seattle officials asked a judge Tuesday to end most federal oversight of the city’s police department, saying its sustained, decade-long reform efforts are a model for other cities whose law enforcement agencies face federal civil rights investigations. Seattle has overhauled virtually all aspects of its police […]
2 days ago
Associated Press

Washington moves to end child sex abuse lawsuit time limits

People who were sexually abused as children in Washington state may soon be able to bring lawsuits against the state, schools or other institutions for failing to stop the abuse, no matter when it happened.
2 days ago
Three children and three adults were killed in a shooting at a private Christian grade school in Na...
Associated Press

Nashville shooter who killed 6 drew maps, surveilled school

Three children were killed in a shooting at a private Christian grade school in Nashville on Monday, hospital officials said.
3 days ago
(Photo from KIRO 7)...
Associated Press

Police: passenger pulled jet’s emergency slide before LAX to SEA flight

A passenger on a Delta Air Lines flight out of Los Angeles International Airport was detained for triggering the plane’s emergency slide prior to takeoff, authorities said.
3 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Compassion International...

Brock Huard and Friends Rally Around The Fight for First Campaign

Professional athletes are teaming up to prevent infant mortality and empower women at risk in communities facing severe poverty.
Emergency Preparedness...

Prepare for the next disaster at the Emergency Preparedness Conference

Being prepared before the next emergency arrives is key to preserving businesses and organizations of many kinds.
SHIBA volunteer...

Volunteer to help people understand their Medicare options!

If you’re retired or getting ready to retire and looking for new ways to stay active, becoming a SHIBA volunteer could be for you!
safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Spain PM in Morocco to mend ties after Western Sahara shift