Spain reunites with Morocco after a year of estrangement

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Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and the King of Morocco, Mohammed VI, in Salé, April 7, 2022.

During a visit to Morocco on Thursday, April 7, the head of the Spanish government, Pedro Sanchez, was received with great fanfare, first by his counterpart Aziz Akhannouch, then at the royal palace in Rabat, where King Mohammed VI invited him to a iftar in his honor, the meal that concludes the breaking of the fast at nightfall, during Ramadan. An unmistakable gesture of friendship, in the eyes of Moroccans, from which the King of Spain, Felipe VI, had benefited eight years earlier.

After more than ten months of diplomatic crisis, it was a matter of reconciliation and the beginning of a… “new phase” relations between Morocco and Spain, according to the joint statement adopted at the end of the meeting. This turnaround, which both countries had previously requested in a press release, resulted in the first concrete measures, first of all the opening “direct and progressive” sea ​​borders, closed in March 2020, officially due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This hiatus was extended by Morocco in the midst of the diplomatic crisis between the two countries in the spring of 2021. The announcement is expected to meet the expectations of some three million Moroccans residing abroad who come to their country during the summer season. return, traditionally using maritime connections with Spain, but also port and tourist operators, stifled by this closure.

Other measures are expected in the context of the “road map” set up in Rabat: resumption of discussions on the demarcation of territorial waters, enhanced cooperation on migration, facilitation of economic exchanges – while Spain is Morocco’s first trading partner – or even energy cooperation after the conclusion, by Algiers, of the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline.

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For Madrid, the price of this normalization is high: the end of its neutrality on the thorny issue of the disputed territory of Western Sahara. This former Spanish colony, more than 80% controlled by Morocco, is considered a territory “not autonomous” by the UN. The separatists of the Polisario Front, backed by Algeria, are calling for a referendum on self-determination. And for forty-seven years his fate has poisoned relations between the three countries.

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