After meeting Arab allies in Israel, the American Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, is on Tuesday 29 March on a visit to Morocco in order to consolidate a regional strategic partnership in a climate of tension in the Maghreb and the Gulf. In Rabat, Mr. Blinken will meet again with his Moroccan counterpart, Nasser Bourita, present Monday at the unprecedented meeting in the Israeli Negev desert with three other Arab ministers, as well as with Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch.
He will also meet the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and de facto leader of the United Arab Emirates, Mohammed Ben Zayed Al Nahyan, whose relations with his traditional American ally are experiencing certain tensions. On Wednesday, the Secretary of State will end his regional tour with a stopover in Algeria, Morocco’s rival in North Africa and Russia’s ally. During these trips, his talks will focus on bilateral and regional security, the fight against terrorism in the Sahel, human rights, but also the economic impact of the conflict in Ukraine, such as the risk of shortage of wheat, according to American officials.
In Rabat, the question of the disputed territory of Western Sahara, a priority for Moroccan diplomacy, should be high on the agenda. “Once again, the national cause, after the recognition by the United States of the “Moroccanness” of the Sahara [en décembre 2020], will dominate this visit”Moroccan historian Moussaoui Ajlaoui recalled in an interview with the semi-official news site Le360. In a statement, the State Department reiterated US support for the self-reliance plan – described as “serious, credible and realistic” – presented by Morocco to settle the “dispute” which has opposed it for decades to the Sahrawi separatists, supported by Algiers.
Yemen, Iran, Sahel and Ukraine
At the same time, Washington assured the personal envoy of the UN Secretary General, Staffan de Mistura, of its support for relaunching the “political process” under the aegis of the United Nations. The State Department has also touted a “strategic partnership rooted in common interests for peace, security and prosperity” of the region. Regarding the war in Ukraine, Morocco did not take part in the two votes of the UN General Assembly condemning the Russian invasion, thus refraining from taking a position in the conflict. This claimed neutrality illustrates Rabat’s desire not to alienate Russia, a member of the UN Security Council, on the question of Western Sahara, according to analysts.
In addition, Antony Blinken will have the opportunity to discuss regional security with Prince Mohammed Ben Zayed Al Nahyane, known as “MBZ”, the strongman of the United Arab Emirates, who has a residence in Morocco. Like Israel, the Emirates and Morocco are united against Iran, while the United States seeks to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement with Tehran, supposed to prevent it from acquiring the atomic bomb in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions. In addition, the Emirates are part of a military coalition, led by Saudi Arabia, which has been helping the government of Yemen since 2015, at war against the Houthis, close to Iran.
In Algiers, Mr. Blinken will continue his discussions on security cooperation – particularly in the Sahel – and the Ukrainian crisis. The American diplomat could thus evoke the reopening of the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline, which would make it possible to reduce the dependence of the countries of the European Union on Russian gas. This pipeline serving Spain and passing through Morocco was closed in October by Algeria following the severance of diplomatic relations with Rabat in August 2021. Algiers then pleaded to“hostile acts” of his neighbor to justify his decision. In addition to Western Sahara, the accelerated normalization between Morocco and Israel is among the disputes between the two enemy brothers of the Maghreb.
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