Spain changes official stance on Western Sahara issue

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced that he supports the plan put forward by Morocco for the solution of the Western Sahara issue.

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Spanish Prime Minister Sanchez, in a letter he sent to Moroccan King Mohammed VI on March 18, stated that his country considered Rabat’s plan to resolve the Western Sahara problem as the most serious attempt. This attempt, which Morocco welcomed, led to comments that Spain’s stance changed on the Western Sahara issue.

It was noteworthy that the letter came after the crisis between Morocco and Spain due to the Western Sahara problem.

Strained relations between Spain and Morocco, which have been the scene of serious tensions recently due to the Western Sahara issue, resulted in the left coalition government in Spain secretly bringing the Secretary-General of the Polisario Front, Brahim Ghali, to the country to be treated for the COVID-19 disease he was caught, on April 22, 2021. His hospitalization had caused a diplomatic crisis.

The political tension between the two countries deepened further with the arrival of the leader of the Polisario Front, Ghali, to Spain, in addition to the influx of irregular migrants from Morocco to Spain.

As a result of the Moroccan administration relinquishing its border control, more than 8,000 irregular migrants crossed to Spain by swimming or walking from the northern Benzu and southern Tarajal borders of Ceuta, one of the Spanish cities in North Africa, between May 17-19.

The influx of irregular migrants ended with Morocco resuming border control and Spain sending troops to the region, and 7,500 irregular migrants were sent back to Morocco.

The Moroccan administration, which withdrew its ambassador from Madrid for consultation, made a written statement, establishing links between the Western Sahara and Catalonia problems, and asserting that the current crisis will not end unless Spain’s clear stance on Western Sahara is clear.

It is observed that after this crisis period, the Spanish government took a step back and tried to restore relations with Morocco.

Morocco expressed its appreciation for Spain’s “positive stance and constructive commitments” regarding the conflict in the Western Sahara region.

In the written statement made by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, evaluations were made about the letter sent by the Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez to the King of Morocco, Mohammed VI, regarding the solution of the Western Sahara problem.

In the statement, it was noted that the Kingdom of Morocco “appreciates Spain’s positive attitudes and constructive commitments on Western Sahara”, and that the expressions in Sanchez’s letter will guide a road map that will strengthen the relations between the two countries.

Referring to the visit of Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares to Rabat before the month of Ramadan, it was stated that Spanish Prime Minister Sanchez will pay a visit to Morocco later.

Meanwhile, Algeria recalled its own ambassador from Madrid for consultation after Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez supported Morocco’s plan to resolve the Western Sahara problem.

In a written statement from the Algerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it was said: “We are surprised by the latest statements from the Spanish high authorities on the subject of Western Sahara.”

Although the Spanish Government said that they were informed about the letter in question, the Algerian Government stated that they were not informed at any level.

The improvement of relations with its neighbor, Morocco, is of great importance for Spain, especially in the irregular immigration problem, the fight against terrorism, cooperation in the fisheries sector, and bilateral trade.

While Spain received its Algerian natural gas, which it is dependent on, through the Maghreb-Europe pipeline passing through Moroccan territory, this line was deactivated in October 2021, after Algeria cut off diplomatic relations with Morocco.

Morocco accuses Algeria of supporting the separatist Polisario Front in the Western Sahara region. It is known that Algeria does not support its neighbor Morocco’s steps in Western Sahara.

Morocco proposes “extended autonomy” in Western Sahara under its rule, arguing that the region should remain under its sovereignty.

The Polisario Front, on the other hand, asserts that Western Sahara is an independent state and calls for a referendum on self-determination.

Musab Yilmaz

Musab Yılmaz is a Researcher in North African Studies. He graduated from Galatasaray University, with a degree in Political Science. He is currently an MA student at Ibn Haldun University, in the Department of Political Science and International Relations. He conducts research on Northern and Sub-Saharan African countries, especially in Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco.

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