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US backs Morocco’s plan to grant autonomy to rebellious Western Sahara

The United States has reiterated its support for a Moroccan plan for autonomy in Western Sahara to settle the kingdom’s decades-old conflict with the Polisario independence movement.

“We continue to view Morocco’s autonomy plan as serious, credible and realistic,” US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said on Tuesday during a visit to the US ally.

Her regional tour will also include Morocco’s arch-rival Algeria.

Sherman voiced support for Staffan de Mistura, the UN’s Western Sahara envoy, who is working to revive a peace process that has been stalled since 2019.

“We do so with an open mind to find a resolution that will lead to an enduring and dignified outcome for all parties,” Sherman told journalists after meeting with Morocco’s top diplomat Nasser Bourita.

Bourita noted Washington’s “clear and constant position” on Western Sahara and the autonomy plan.

Rabat sees the vast stretch of desert, a former Spanish colony with rich phosphate resources and access to lucrative Atlantic fishing waters, as an integral part of its territory.

Morocco laid claim to the area after Spain withdrew in 1975.

The Polisario Front took up arms to demand independence, proclaiming the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) in 1976 and fighting a 16-year war with Morocco.

Morocco now controls 80 percent of the territory, while the rest is run by the Polisario Front.

Polisario Front has continued to demand an independence referendum on the basis of a 1991 deal that included a ceasefire.

Ties with Israel

In late 2020, the Trump administration recognised Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara as a quid pro quo for the kingdom mending ties with Israel.

The Biden administration has not reversed Trump’s decision.

The deal sparked renewed tensions with neighbouring Algeria, which has long supported the Polisario.

The movement has declared the 1991 ceasefire null and void.

Sherman said she and Bourita also discussed Russia’s “premeditated, unjustified, and unprovoked war on Ukraine”.

Rabat, one of Washington’s oldest allies under a treaty dating back to 1787, did not take part in last week’s UN General Assembly vote on a resolution calling for Russia to withdraw immediately from Ukraine.

Analysts say its neutrality stems from a desire to avoid alienating Russia, a Security Council member with a say in resolutions over Western Sahara.

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