In Morocco, Blinken amid shifts in Mideast and NAfrica diplomacy

U.S. Secretary Antony Blinken demanded Tuesday the expansion of major diplomatic shifts in North Africa and the Middle East that challenge the traditional wisdom regarding some of the longest-standing conflicts in the region.

In Morocco, Blinken amid shifts in Mideast and NAfrica diplomacy

Blinken visited Morocco the day after a remarkable gathering in Israel's Negev Desert. He was accompanied by four Arab foreign ministers.

In talks with Blinken, the de facto leader in the United Arab Emirates, at his private residence, Blinken discussed the great opportunities and challenges facing the region and the world.

Recent hostilities by the UAE in Syria have angered the U.S. and the UAE has expressed concern at the Biden administration's efforts to revive the Iran nuclear deal.

Blinken, who was in Morocco prior to a Wednesday visit to Algeria, was looking at options for helping to end the neighbor's festering dispute over Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony.

Their second meeting in two days was the one between Blinken, and Nasser Bourita, Moroccan Foreign Minister. They met Monday in Sde Boker, Israel. Both men confirmed their commitments to support a revived Middle East and strengthen ties between Israel & Arab countries.

Along with Bahrain and the UAE, Morocco was among the countries that fully normalized relations with Israel in the Trump administration's push for the "Abraham Accords," where the U.S. promised significant support in return for such recognition. Although Morocco is not technically a signatory to the Abraham Accords, it was granted U.S. recognition in exchange for Israel's agreement.

The Biden administration, in rare endorsement of a Trump foreign-policy initiative, has backed the Abraham Accords and promised to strengthen and expand them. The administration has been silent about the matter, but it has not reversed Trump's decision regarding Western Sahara. Since Trump announced them in 2020, U.S. plans for building a consulate there have stagnated.

This has raised questions about Washington's support for Moroccan sovereignty over the ex-Spanish colony.

Spain changed its position on the territory last week by supporting Morocco's plan for Western Sahara to be independent as long as it is under Moroccan control. It called it the "most serious, realistic, and credible" approach to resolving the decades-old dispute.

Blinken repeated the phrase "serious and realistic" in his address to the Moroccan plan. However, he did not endorse it fully, but said that it was "one possible approach" to resolving this dispute.

Bourita stated that the autonomy plan was praised by many countries including Spain and the United States. However, he said that other countries -- especially in Europe -- should join the fray.

He stated that Europe needs to move out of its comfort zone, where people support a process, and into an outcome-oriented effort.

Rabat welcomed the Spanish decision immediately, and its ambassador to Madrid was re-instated after a 10-month absence. It was sharply criticised by Algeria, which supports the independence movement of Polisario Front in Western Sahara, and recall its ambassador to Spain.

Blinken met with both protagonists to discuss the possibility of a compromise on Western Sahara. This vast area, which Morocco annexed to Morocco in 1976, is largely deserted but is rich in phosphates. It also has fertile Atlantic Ocean fishing areas.

The Polisario called Spain’s decision a "grave mistake" that resulted from Morocco's influence over control of migrants entering Europe. Madrid is accused of being in conflict with the Spanish government, which for decades has maintained that a U.N.-sponsored referendum could resolve the dispute.

Blinken met Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed later Tuesday to discuss U.S.-UAE tensions regarding a possible revival of the Iran nuclear agreement, the recent spat about Assad's visit and Emirati concerns over rocket attacks on it by Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

Blinken expressed appreciation for the UAE's leadership in normalizing relations with Israel. He also noted that the Emirati foreign ministry had made strong remarks regarding normalizing Arab-Israeli relations at Israel's Negev Desert meeting.

"At the exact same time, there are real challenges to confront together, in the region, and beyond," Blinken said to Sheikh Mohammed. Most of his brief remarks were inaudible.

Blinken stated that the U.S. was "determined to help you defend yourself" from attacks by the Houthis who recently increased rocket strikes against the UAE and Saudi Arabia. He promised to meet with the Emiratis regarding the Iran nuclear negotiations as well as the implications of Russia's war against Ukraine on global energy security and global food security.


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