US President Joe Biden has reportedly decided not to reverse his predecessor’s controversial decision to recognize Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed Western Sahara region, at least for the time being.
The US, under former president Donald Trump, became the first Western country to back Rabat’s contested sovereignty over the region in exchange for Morocco’s agreement to normalize relations with Israel.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken notified his Moroccan counterpart Nasser Bourita of the decision to leave the American policy as is during a phone call on Friday, Axios reported.
“The secretary welcomed Morocco’s steps to improve relations with Israel and noted the Morocco-Israel relationship will bring long-term benefits for both countries,” according to a readout of the call from the State Department.
Biden officials have held several conversations on the issue of Western Sahara, and while they have decided not to reverse the Trump policy for now, Washington plans to push for the appointment of a new UN special envoy who would resume negotiations aimed at possible autonomy for the disputed territory, Axios reported.
When asked about the issue at a Friday press briefing, State Department deputy spokesperson Jaline Porter said that “when it comes to Western Sahara, we are consulting privately with parties on how to best halt the violence there… We would also talk about having the goal to achieve a lasting settlement.”
In February, half the Senate signed a bipartisan letter led by Republican Jim Inhofe and senior Democrat Patrick Leahy calling on Biden to reverse Trump’s “illegitimate” Western Sahara decision.
“The abrupt decision by the previous administration on December 11, 2020, to officially recognize the Kingdom of Morocco’s illegitimate claims of sovereignty over Western Sahara was short-sighted, undermined decades of consistent US policy, and alienated a significant number of African nations,” the senators wrote.
“The Sahrawi people deserve the right to freely choose their own destiny. We hope that we can count on you to be a partner in this effort,” they added.
The Algerian-backed Polisario Front, which fought a war for independence from 1975 to 1991, considers such moves violations of international law.
While the Western Sahara is home to fewer than a million people, it offers Morocco rich phosphate resources, fisheries and a key highway to Mauritania and the rest of West Africa.
In November, the Polisario announced it regarded a 1991 ceasefire as null and void, after Morocco sent troops into a UN-patrolled buffer zone to reopen the road.