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Rabat's lobbying of Washington on Western Sahara has paid off

Biden's nod towards King Mohammed VI fits with widening links with authoritarians as Russia-Ukraine war sharpens geopolitical alignments

Rabat has stepped up its lobbying efforts in the United States in recent months to persuade President Joe Biden's administration that it should not unpick the Trump administration's position on Western Sahara. In February, the kingdom signed an additional two-month contract worth $80,000 with Washington lobbying firm Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer and Feld to 'continue outreach and engagement with the Congress and Biden Administration'.

The spending appears to have paid off. In late 2020, President Donald Trump's administration recognised Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara as a quid pro quo for the kingdom officially recognising Israel. That position was confirmed by US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman during her five-day visit to Morocco and Algeria last week (Vol 61 No 25, King reaps Saharan dividend & Vol 62 No 22, The PJD loses its base).

'We continue to view Morocco's autonomy plan as serious, credible and realistic,' said Sherman after meeting Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita. Sherman added that Washington had 'an open mind to find a resolution that will lead to an enduring and dignified outcome for all parties'.

There is still some disagreement in Washington with the administration's position. Before Sherman went to Morocco, 11 members of the US Congress urged the Biden administration not to agree any new arms deals with Morocco, and criticised its stance on Western Sahara.

'These sales are inappropriate because of the lack of Moroccan guarantees that these weapons will not be used against the Sahrawi people and because of the lack of progress on the organisation of a political referendum and the conclusion of a final peace agreement in Western Sahara,' the letter stated.

Sherman's words may disappoint the Congress representatives, as well as the Sahrawi independence movement, the Polisario Front, but any moves to strengthen US ties with Rabat can scarcely come as a surprise.

Morocco is a key political ally of the US in the Maghreb, particularly against the backdrop of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

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