Morocco, Spain patch up diplomatic feud after Spanish shift on Western Sahara

Spanish Prime Minister Sanchez meets with Moroccan King Mohammed VI at the Royal Palace in RabatSpanish Prime Minister Sanchez meets with Moroccan King Mohammed VI at the Royal Palace in Rabat

Morocco said on Thursday it will open a new page in its ties with Spain, apparently ending a diplomatic crisis after Madrid supported Rabat on the question of sovereignty over Western Sahara.

During a meeting in Rabat, King Mohammed VI and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez “reiterated their willingness to usher a new phase, based on mutual respect, mutual trust, permanent consultation and frank and loyal cooperation,” a statement issued by the Royal Palace said on Thursday.Spanish Prime Minister Sanchez meets with Moroccan King Mohammed VI at the Royal Palace in Rabat

It also said Sanchez reaffirmed a position he has expressed last month, describing Morocco’s autonomy plan for Western Sahara as “the most serious, realistic and credible” basis for solving the conflict.

Last month’s Spanish statement showed a shift in the country’s policy in favour of Morocco’s claim to the territory, a former Spanish colony, where the Algeria-backed Polisario Front seeks to establish an independent state.

The shift was heavily criticized in Spain where a wide majority of lawmakers, including from the left- and right-wing opposition as well as Unidas Podemos, the junior government partner to Pedro Sanchez’s Socialist Party, voted a resolution against the foreign policy change. “What is not understandable is this turn from the Socialist Party,” Labour Minister Yolanda Diaz, from Unidas Podemos, said after the vote. “I suspect it is related to the prime minister’s trip.”Spanish Prime Minister Sanchez meets with Moroccan King Mohammed VI at the Royal Palace in Rabat

Spain is Morocco’s main trading partner and the two countries have worked together on issues including migration, anti-terrorism and energy. The diplomatic move though has strained the relationship between Madrid and Morocco’s arch-rival in the region, Algeria, which supplies gas to Spain.

The relationship between Spain and Morocco had turned glacial last year after Spain admitted Polisario leader Brahim Ghali for medical treatment, without officially telling Rabat. While he was hospitalized, Moroccan authorities appeared to relax border controls with Ceuta, a Spanish enclave in northern Morocco, leading to an influx of at least 8,000 migrants, most of whom were later returned.

The Spanish support for the autonomy plan comes after similar positions by the United States, Germany, France, Israel and other countries in Africa and the Arab world. Polisario Front and Algeria reject autonomy and insist on holding an independence referendum.Spanish Prime Minister Sanchez meets with Morocco's Prime Minister Akhannouch in Rabat

The United Nations has urged parties to the conflict to negotiate in a spirit of compromise towards a “mutually acceptable solution”.

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