Spain's new foreign minister sends a conciliatory message to Morocco

José Manuel Albares' main task is to restore diplomatic relations with the Alawi kingdom
Jose Manuel Albares takes the oath of office as Spain's new Foreign Minister during the swearing-in ceremony in the presence of Spain's King Felipe, right, and Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, second right, at the Zarzuela Palace in Madrid, Spain, Monday, July 12, 2021.

PHOTO/BALLESTEROS vía AP  -   Jose Manuel Albares takes the oath of office as Spain's new Foreign Minister during the swearing-in ceremony in the presence of Spain's King Felipe, right, and Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, second right, at the Zarzuela Palace in Madrid, Spain, Monday, July 12, 2021

José Manuel Albares, Spain's new Minister of Foreign Affairs, sent a conciliatory message to Morocco on his inauguration after replacing Arancha González Laya as head of Spanish diplomacy. One of his main challenges will be to resolve one of the main current problems, which is the diplomatic dispute with Morocco. 

The Spanish foreign minister stressed that it is necessary to "strengthen relations with Morocco, a great neighbour and friend of the south" after being appointed by Pedro Sánchez as the new head of the Spanish government's foreign affairs department, as some media outlets such as the EFE news agency reported. 

This is the main burning issue affecting Spain's international relations: the diplomatic crisis with Morocco. A problem that was triggered by the presence of Brahim Ghali, leader of the Polisario Front, in Spanish territory to be hospitalised in Logroño due to serious respiratory problems. The Alawi kingdom demanded explanations for Ghali's entry into Spain and denounced the lack of cooperation from a country considered a neighbour and ally by not providing adequate information on the Polisario leader's presence in Spain.

El rey marroquí Mohamed VI (Centro), flanqueado por su hermano el príncipe Moulay Rachid (Derecha) y su hijo el príncipe heredero Moulay Hassan (Izquierda)
AFP PHOTO/SOURCE/MOROCCAN ROYAL PALACE - Moroccan King Mohammed VI (centre), flanked by his brother Prince Moulay Rachid (right) and his son Crown Prince Moulay Hassan (left).

The previous foreign minister, Arancha González Laya, justified this reception on humanitarian grounds, but her explanations did not satisfy the North African authorities.  

After this diplomatic clash, other episodes followed that made the situation even more tense. There was the migratory crisis in Ceuta, with the irregular entry of thousands of Moroccans across the border, and Spain's exclusion from the well-known Operation Crossing the Strait in order to give priority to other ways of returning citizens to Morocco, such as France, Italy and Portugal. 

Ghali's presence in Spain generated a great deal of controversy, above all over the accusations levelled against him for alleged crimes of terrorism and genocide, as reported by several media outlets. The Polisario Front leader had to testify telematically before the Audiencia Nacional, which finally did not impose precautionary measures on him, so he was able to leave Spain for Algeria, where he was hospitalised and even received a visit from Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune and the army chief of staff, Said Chengriha. 

Menores no acompañados que cruzaron a España se reúnen fuera de un almacén utilizado como refugio temporal mientras esperan ser examinados para la COVID-19 en el enclave español de Ceuta, cerca de la frontera de Marruecos y España, el miércoles 19 de mayo de 2021
AP/BERNAT AMANGUE - Unaccompanied minors who crossed into Spain gather outside a warehouse used as a temporary shelter as they wait to be screened for COVID-19 in the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, near the border of Morocco and Spain, Wednesday, May 19, 2021.

Subsequently, a court in Zaragoza requested clarification on who gave permission for Ghali's entry into Spain, another front opened in the judicial sphere regarding the controversial figure of the Polisario leader. 

However, behind all this lies another underlying problem: Morocco criticises Spain's lack of clear support for its formula for resolving the Western Sahara conflict, which is based on broad autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty, all within the framework of the United Nations. This option has received significant international support, including from the United States, both from the previous administration of Donald Trump and the current administration of Joe Biden. In addition, several countries announced the opening of national consulates in important enclaves such as Dakhla or El Aaiún, which meant a great deal of support for the North African country. 

Against this position is the Polisario Front's initiative, with little international support, including from Algeria, which calls for a referendum on independence. A question that does not seem to be on the table at the moment. 

Fotografía de archivo, el primer ministro de Marruecos, Saad Eddine el-Othmani, a la derecha, saluda a su homólogo español Pedro Sánchez antes de su reunión, en Rabat, Marruecos, el lunes 19 de noviembre de 2018
PHOTO/AP - File photo, Morocco's Prime Minister Saad Eddine el-Othmani, right, greets his Spanish counterpart Pedro Sanchez before their meeting, in Rabat, Morocco, Monday, Nov. 19, 2018.

Now comes the figure of José Manuel Albares, former ambassador in Paris, to redirect a difficult situation with Morocco, which has been a neighbouring country and a basic partner for Spain in various issues such as migration and the fight against terrorism over the last few decades. 

Albares left a clear message, that of "working with our allies and friends", which logically includes Morocco and other powers such as the United States, with its new Biden Administration.