Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez traveled to Morocco on Thursday, where he met King Mohammed VI. The two men reiterated the “desire to open a new phase in the relations between the two countries,” which have been scrambling for a year. This normalization was made possible by Madrid’s decision to now show its support for Morocco’s autonomy plan for Western Sahara.
Spain and Morocco vowed to “open a new phase” in their stalled relations for a year, after Madrid’s retreat on the issue of Western Sahara, during Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s visit Thursday, April 7th to Rabat.
“We agreed to define a sustainable and ambitious roadmap,” Pedro Sanchez told reporters, describing his talks as a “historic moment.”
Pedro Sanchez, accompanied by Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Alpars, was received by King Mohammed VI this evening before the “breakfast” of the Ramadan fast in his honor. A sign of the importance of his journey in the eyes of Moroccans.
In a joint statement, King Sharifi and the Spanish prime minister agreed to “inaugurate an unprecedented phase in the relations between the two countries.”
“realistic and reasonable”
This normalization was made possible by Spain’s decision to now show its support for Morocco’s autonomy plan for Western Sahara.
Pedro Sanchez emphasized “the point of reaffirming Spain’s position on the Sahara issue, considering the Moroccan initiative for autonomy as the most serious, realistic and credible basis for resolving the conflict,” stressed the royal court.
>> Read also: Western Sahara: The origins of the crisis between Spain and Morocco
A few hours before his arrival in Rabat, the Socialist Prime Minister suffered a setback in the Spanish Chamber of Deputies, who denounced Madrid’s abandonment of its “historic” position of neutrality towards the former Spanish colony.
The conflict in Western Sahara – a vast desert region rich in phosphates and fish-infested waters – has pitted Morocco against the Sahrawi separatists of the Polisario Front, backed by Algeria, for decades. While Rabat calls for an autonomy situation under Moroccan sovereignty, the Polisario calls for a referendum for self-determination under the auspices of the United Nations.
Algeria is angry
If Pedro Sanchez refutes any notion of a “turn” in this file, he is alienating his leftist allies and the right-wing opposition – as evidenced by the vote of Spanish deputies on Thursday – as well as the Polisario and Algiers, Spain’s gas supplier.
On Thursday, the Algerian newspaper L’Expression accused Spain of “betraying (…) the legitimate right of the Sahrawi people to self-determination” and denounced “Sanchez’s dangerous game that came above all to exacerbate tensions in the region.”
The visit of the Spanish leader, at the invitation of King Mohammed VI, comes within the framework of a “new phase of partnership” between the two neighboring kingdoms, marking the end of a serious diplomatic crisis. As expected, the two parties agreed to implement a “road map covering all areas of the partnership”.
“Matters of Common Concern”
Among the “issues of common concern” are illegal immigration, the reopening of borders and maritime links, and smuggling around the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla on the northern coast of the kingdom.
But also trade and investment – Spain is Morocco’s number one trading partner – and cooperation in the field of energy, such as the supply of natural gas after Algeria closed the Maghreb-European (GME) gas pipeline, or even the delimitation of territorial waters.
For Madrid, the main purpose of restoring relations with Rabat is to ensure its “cooperation” in controlling illegal immigration, while Morocco, from which most immigrants leave for Spain, has been regularly accused, by many observers, of using them as leverage. .
The Spanish government also hopes that Rabat will ease its claims to Ceuta and Melilla. But many analysts warn that there are no real guarantees Spain will get from Morocco.