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Spain and the United States agree to join forces to resolve the Western Sahara conflict

The Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares met with Antony Blinken and both agreed to work towards a solution to the current situation of the Saharawis
Meeting between José Manuel Albares, Spanish Foreign Minister, and Antony Blinken, US Secretary of State, in Washington.

PHOTO/Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Spain  -   Meeting between José Manuel Albares, Spanish Foreign Minister, and Antony Blinken, US Secretary of State, in Washington

Spain and the United States expressed their intention to work together to resolve the decades-long conflict in Western Sahara. This was one of the main messages launched during the meeting held in Washington between José Manuel Albares, Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Antony Blinken, US Secretary of State. 

The two diplomats agreed at their meeting on Tuesday to "join forces" in order to resolve the current situation affecting the Saharawis. "We have agreed to join forces to resolve this conflict that has gone on for too long and for which a solution must be found," the Spanish foreign minister said, according to the Europa Press news agency. José Manuel Albares also indicated that "there are thousands of people" who are waiting for this solution. 

With this position expressed by the minister José Manuel Albares, Spain continues to show signs of rapprochement with Morocco after the important message launched by King Felipe VI shortly before in a speech at the reception of the diplomatic corps. The Spanish monarch indicated that the governments of Spain and Morocco "have agreed to jointly redefine a relationship for the 21st century, on stronger and more solid pillars". "Now, both nations must walk together to begin to materialise this new relationship", explained the King of Spain, who also pointed out that "it is a question of finding solutions to the problems that concern our peoples".

These signs of rapprochement come after some turbulent months of diplomatic clashes between Spain and Morocco, especially following the presence on Spanish territory of Brahim Ghali, leader of the Polisario Front, to be treated for a serious respiratory ailment in a hospital in Logroño last April. The Alaouite kingdom denounced the fact that it had not been properly informed by the Spanish government despite being considered a political ally. This was followed by episodes that made the situation more tense, such as the entry of thousands of illegal immigrants from North Africa through the Ceuta border and the withdrawal of the Moroccan ambassador from Madrid.  

Encuentro entre José Manuel Albares, ministro de Asuntos Exteriores español, y Antony Blinken, secretario de Estados norteamericano, en Washington
PHOTO/Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Spain - Meeting between José Manuel Albares, Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Antony Blinken, US Secretary of State, in Washington, DC

Underlying this scenario was also the fact that Morocco considers that Spain has not sufficiently supported it on the Western Sahara issue, unlike other major nations, such as the United States, which has supported the Kingdom's proposal to resolve the Sahrawi conflict, based on a formula of broad autonomy for Western Sahara under Moroccan sovereignty. Donald Trump's previous US administration supported this thesis in exchange for the Alawi kingdom establishing relations with Israel, and this position has not been reversed by Joe Biden's current administration. Other nations have also shown their support for Morocco, such as the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and Germany. 

This is in contrast to the position of the Polisario Front, which advocates holding a referendum on independence for the Sahrawi people; an option that has little international support, including that of Algeria, Morocco's great political rival in the Maghreb, which decided to sever diplomatic relations with the Kingdom last August due to the difficult relationship between the two countries, fostered by Algeria's aggressive political stance, as various analysts have pointed out.

Indeed, the appointment of José Manuel Albares as Spanish Foreign Minister, replacing Arancha González Laya (who became embroiled in the controversy over Brahim Ghali's presence in Spain), was aimed at improving relations with Morocco due to the Spanish diplomat's political profile. 

This meeting between José Manuel Albares and Antony Blinken came on the heels of the tour by Staffan de Mistura, UN Special Envoy for Western Sahara, of Morocco and the Sahrawi refugee camps in Tindouf in Algeria to see the state of the situation on the ground. The Sahrawi refugees are facing extremely difficult living conditions in the camps, exacerbated by the current pandemic situation of COVID-19.

Vista general del salón del trono durante las palabras de Su Majestad el Rey
PHOTO/His Majesty the King's Household - General view of the throne room during His Majesty the King's address

The US State Department expressed its full support for Staffan de Mistura's work and took advantage of this announcement to re-align itself with Morocco's thesis. José Manuel Albares himself also indicated that this Friday he will meet in Madrid with the UN envoy for Western Sahara to address the issue, while Morocco continues to wait for the Spanish government to recognise Western Sahara as Moroccan as a gesture to establish a strong diplomatic link. 

José Manuel Albares and Antony Blinken also discussed other relevant issues, such as the upcoming NATO summit to be held on 29 and 30 June in Madrid, the conflict in Ukraine with Russia's belligerent stance on the border, and bilateral cooperation between Spain and the United States on other matters. 

Minister Albares' agenda also included a meeting with Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives, with Joaquín Castro, President of the US Spain Council, with Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the Organisation of American States (OAS), and with Mauricio Claver-Carone, President of the Inter-American Development Bank.