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Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has been shocked by the ferocious responses to his policy change on Western Sahara
As Madrid rebuilds its diplomatic relations with Morocco in the wake of its latest row over Western Sahara, it is eroding its long-nurtured ties with Algiers. This has been reinforced by Algeria's suspension of its 20-year friendship treaty with Spain.
Nadia Calvino, Spain's economy minister, told reporters in Barcelona that she believed that Algeria was 'more and more aligned with Russia'. But she added, 'I hope that Algeria will reconsider its position and the statements it has made.'
The main source of anger in Algiers is Madrid's decision in March to endorse Morocco's plan to offer 'limited autonomy' to the disputed territory of Western Sahara last month. That proposal had already won support from President Donald Trump's outgoing administration in the United States (Dispatches 14/3/22, Rabat's lobbying of Washington on Western Sahara has paid off). Breaking with over three decades of policy, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez endorsed Morocco's plan as 'the most serious, realistic, and credible basis' to end the conflict (Dispatches 24/3/22, Dropping the Polisario Front, Madrid backs Rabat).
The Algeria's treaty suspension means a trade embargo on Spain, apart from gas supply. By changing its regional policy Sanchez's government was 'contributing directly to the degradation of the situation in the Western Sahara and the region', a statement by President Abdelmadjid Tebboune's office said.
'The current Spanish government has given its full support to the illegal and illegitimate form of internal autonomy advocated by the occupying power and has worked to promote a colonial fait accompli using spurious arguments,' the statement added.
The decision appears to have surprise Sanchez. His office responded that Spain continues to regard Algeria 'as a friendly neighbour country and restates its complete readiness to keep and develop the special cooperation relationship between our two countries'. For the moment, there is no indication that the move will result in the suspension of Algerian gas supplies to Spain. But this is where Algeria has most leverage over its northern neighbour.
Algeria's state-owned gas company Sonatrach supplies gas on long-term contracts to Spain at below market price. But Italy and other European countries seeking alternative suppliers to Russia are also bidding for Algeria's gas.
This latest move by Algiers will intensify the divisions within Sanchez's left-wing coalition, whose junior partner, Podemos, has lambasted the rapprochement with Morocco.
For now, it is a zero-sum game for Spain. Morocco broke off diplomatic relations with Spain after Polisario Front leader Brahim Ghali received treatment for Covid-19 in a Spanish hospital (AC Vol 62 No 12, Spain feels M6's fury). But Rabat quickly reversed that decision after Sanchez recognised its plan for 'limited autonomy' to Western Sahara.
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