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Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez traveled to Morocco on Thursday to meet King Mohammed VI. The two men “repeated the desire to open a new phase in relations between the two countries,” scribbled for a year. This normalization was made possible by Madrid’s decision to now express its support for the Moroccan autonomy plan for Western Sahara.
Spain and Morocco have pledged to “open a new phase” in their one-year suspended relations, following Madrid’s turnaround on the issue of Western Saharaduring a visit to Rabat on Thursday 7 April by Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.
“We have agreed to define a sustainable and ambitious roadmap,” Pedro Sanchez told reporters, calling his talks a “historic moment.”
Pedro Sanchez, accompanied by Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares, was received in audience by King Mohammed VI in the evening before an “iftar”, breaking the Ramadan fast, was offered in his honor. A sign of the importance of his journey in the eyes of Moroccans.
In a joint statement, the Cherifian sovereign and the head of the Spanish government agreed to “use an unprecedented stage in relations between the two countries”.
“Realistic and believable”
This normalization was made possible by Spain’s decision to now show its support for the Moroccan autonomy plan for Western Sahara.
Pedro Sanchez “confirmed Spain’s position on the Sahara issue, and considered the Moroccan autonomy initiative to be the most serious, realistic and credible basis for resolving the dispute,” the royal cabinet stressed.
>> To also read: Western Sahara: the origins of the crisis between Spain and Morocco
A few hours before landing in Rabat, the Socialist Prime Minister suffered a setback in the Spanish Chamber of Deputies, which giving up Madrid’s “historical” neutrality position on the former Spanish colony.
The conflict in Western Sahara – a vast desert region rich in phosphates and waters full of fish – pits Morocco for decades against the Sahrawi separatists of the Polisario Front, supported by Algeria. While Rabat argues for an autonomous status under Moroccan sovereignty, the Polisario calls for a referendum on self-determination under the auspices of the UN.
When Pedro Sanchez refuted any idea of a “turnaround” in this dossier, he alienated his left-wing allies and the right-wing opposition – as reflected in the vote of Spanish deputies on Thursday – but also the Polisario and Algiers, Spanish gas supplier.
The Algerian daily L’Expression accused Spain on Thursday of “betraying (…) the Sahrawi people’s legitimate right to self-determination” and denounced “Sanchez’s dangerous game that has especially increased tensions in the region.”
The visit of the Spanish leader, at the invitation of King Mohammed VI, is part of “a new phase of partnership” between the two neighboring kingdoms, the end of a serious diplomatic crisis† As expected, the two sides agreed to “implement a roadmap covering all areas of the partnership”.
“Questions of Common Interest”
“Issues of common concern” include illegal immigration, the reopening of borders and maritime connections and smuggling around the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, located on the northern coast of the kingdom.
But also trade and investment – Spain is Morocco’s main trading partner – energy cooperation, such as the supply of natural gas after the closure by Algiers of the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline (GME), or even the demarcation of territorial waters .
For Madrid, the main aim of restoring relations with Rabat is to ensure its “cooperation” in the control of illegal immigration, while Morocco, from which most migrants leave for Spain, is regularly accused by many observers of using it as a means of pressure.
The Spanish government also hopes that Rabat will water down its claim to Ceuta and Melilla. But many analysts warn of the lack of real guarantees Spain has received from Morocco.