US Secretary of State Antony Blinken praised Morocco’s proposal on Western Sahara on Monday, signaling new support despite increasing tensions over the territory with Algeria.
Former President Donald Trump broke a global precedent last year by recognizing Morocco’s claims to Western Sahara and winning the kingdom’s promise to normalize relations with Israel.
President Joe Biden’s administration has tried to bypass the sovereignty debate, but has left Trump’s decision.
Blinken welcomed Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita and praised Morocco for becoming one of three Arab states to forge ties with Israel last year – whose Defense Minister Benny Gantz visited Rabat on Tuesday to examine cooperation.
Blinken “indicated that we continue to view the Moroccan autonomy plan as serious, credible and realistic and as a potential approach to meet the aspirations of the people of Western Sahara,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Ned Price.
After Spain withdrew in 1975, Morocco overran 80 percent of Western Sahara.
A 1991 United Nations-brokered ceasefire agreement provided for a United Nations-monitored referendum on self-determination with all the options on the table, but Morocco has rejected any vote that included a choice of independence and offered limited autonomy.
Algeria supports the independence movement, the Polisario Front, and insists that Washington’s position has no effect as the United Nations does not recognize Moroccan sovereignty in the region.
Tensions have increased in recent months as Algeria severed diplomatic ties with Morocco and earlier this month accused the kingdom of killing three Algerians on a highway through Western Sahara.
Polisario leader Brahim Ghali promised last week to escalate Morocco’s “just war for liberation”.
In brief remarks to reporters, Blinken described Bourita’s visit as “timely” due to the recent appointment of the experienced diplomat Staffan de Mistura by the United Nations as envoy for the Western Sahara conflict.
He was the 13th person laid off for the job and was initially turned down by Morocco until the United States pressured the Kingdom to accept him, diplomats said.
Western Sahara is sparsely populated and mostly desert, but has mineral reserves and access to world-class fisheries in the Atlantic. It also offers a potential trade route between the Arab Kingdom and West African markets.