US diplomat visits Western Sahara after Morocco-Israel deal

David Schenker’s go to comes forward of the anticipated opening of provisional US consulate within the contested desert area.

A prime United States envoy has visited contested Western Sahara after Washington recognised Morocco’s sovereignty there in trade for Rabat normalising ties with Israel.

The US embassy in Rabat known as the journey on Saturday by David Schenker, assistant secretary of state for close to japanese affairs, and the highest-ranking US diplomat for North Africa and the Middle East, “a historic visit”.

Schenker’s go to comes earlier than the anticipated opening of a provisional US consulate within the desert area on Sunday, in keeping with diplomatic sources in Rabat.

Western Sahara is a disputed and divided former Spanish colony, principally beneath Morocco’s management, the place tensions with the pro-independence Polisario Front have simmered because the Seventies.

Last 12 months Morocco joined the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan in agreeing to normalise ties with Israel beneath US-brokered offers.

In return, US President Donald Trump fulfilled a decades-old Moroccan aim by backing its contested sovereignty over the barren however phosphate-rich area, which lies subsequent to wealthy Atlantic fishing zones.

UN peacekeepers in Western Sahara are mandated to organise a referendum on self-determination for the area, and regardless of Washington’s transfer, the UN insists its place is “unchanged”.

‘Virtual’ US presence

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo mentioned in a Christmas Eve assertion that Washington plans initially to determine a “virtual” presence in Western Sahara to be managed from the US Embassy in Morocco, targeted on selling financial and social growth.

A “fully functioning consulate” is to comply with, the assertion mentioned. It didn’t point out whether or not the diplomatic put up could be in Laayoune or Dakhla.

Joe Biden, who will exchange Trump as president on January 20, has not publicly commented on Western Sahara.

“Every administration has the prerogative to set foreign policy,” mentioned Schenker, talking in a earlier cease in Algeria, however ruling out US army presence in Western Sahara.

But, he mentioned, “Let me be clear: the US is not establishing a military base in the Western Sahara.”

More than a dozen nations have already opened diplomatic workplaces within the territory, together with the UAE and a number of other African and Arab nations.

The Algerian-backed Polisario Front, which fought a battle for independence from 1975 to 1991, considers such strikes violations of worldwide legislation.

While Western Sahara is residence to fewer than one million individuals, it provides Morocco wealthy phosphate sources, fisheries and a key freeway to Mauritania and the remainder of West Africa.

In November, the Polisario introduced it regarded a 1991 ceasefire as null and void after Morocco despatched troops right into a UN-patrolled buffer zone to reopen the highway.

Washington’s resolution to recognise Morocco’s declare over Western Sahara was a major coverage shift. The transfer unnerved each the Polisario Front and Morocco’s neighbour Algeria, the place the Polisario Front is predicated.

Schenker on Saturday additionally visited the headquarters of the UN peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara, generally known as Minurso.

He was in Algeria a day earlier, reiterating there that Morocco’s plan for Western Sahara’s autonomy must be the framework for negotiations, the web TSA-Algeria information website reported.