Moroccan King receives Spanish Prime Minister in Rabat
King Mohammed VI’s Royal Office says Sanchez reaffirmed Spain’s position on the Sahara issue, considering the Moroccan autonomy initiative as the most serious, realistic and credible basis for resolving the dispute
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez travelled 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.
Following a meeting between the leaders, the King invited Sanchez and his family to share in the Iftar meal to break the day’s fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Spain’s government called the meeting an opportunity to open a “new stage” in ties with Morocco based on “mutual respect,” but also to discuss “restraint from any unilateral action to honor the importance of all that we share and to avoid future crises.”
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 separatist movement for Western Sahara to receive medical treatment for COVID-19 at a Spanish hospital on request by Morocco’s neighbour Algeria, an ally of the Polisario Front.
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 Sanchez took the surprising decision to alter Spain’s long-standing position on Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony. In a letter to King Mohammed, Sanchez backed Morocco’s plan to give more autonomy to Western Sahara as long as it remains unquestionably under Moroccan grip.
The Spanish leader called Rabat’s proposal “the most serious, realistic and credible” initiative for resolving the decades-long dispute over the vast territory — that’s largely barren but rich in phosphates and faces fertile fishing grounds in the Atlantic Ocean — which Morocco annexed in 1976.
Morocco, in turn, sent back its ambassador to Spain 10 months after she was recalled.
After their meeting on Thursday, King Mohammed VI’s Royal Office issued a statement saying Sanchez “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.”
Morocco has grown in strategic importance to Spain over the past decade. Rabat is considered critical both in the fight against radical jihadist groups as well as in holding back increasing numbers of African migrants who want to reach Europe as they flee violence and poverty.
Sanchez 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 Sanchez sharp criticism both in Madrid and in Algiers.
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