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Spain enters into a new dynamic of rapprochement with Morocco

Zarzuela and Moncloa are committed to dialogue and await the return of the Moroccan ambassador to Madrid, Karima Benyaich
Felipe VI

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Relations between Spain and Morocco have entered a new stage this week, following the words of King Felipe VI during the reception for the diplomatic corps at the Royal Palace and the trip to Washington by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation, José Manuel Albares, to meet with his US counterpart. A dynamic of rapprochement promoted by Madrid that seeks to put an end to tensions with Rabat after months of diplomatic crisis.

Spain has shown several signs of détente. The King assured that the Spanish and Moroccan executives "have agreed to jointly redefine a relationship for the 21st century based on stronger and more solid pillars" so that both countries can begin to "walk together". Statements that Albares aligned with those of Pedro Sánchez's government. Zarzuela and Moncloa agree on the need to rebuild relations with Morocco, but the conditions imposed by the Moroccan Royal House make progress difficult.

Felipe VI spoke for the first time since the outbreak of the crisis in May 2021. The entry into Spain of Polisario Front leader Brahim Ghali, who was admitted to hospital in Logroño for treatment by COVID-19 without Rabat's knowledge, provoked a diplomatic rift and the recall of Morocco's ambassador to Madrid, Karima Benyaich, for consultations. Since then, the irregular entry of 10,000 people into Ceuta, instigated by Morocco in the form of reprisals, finally unravelled the bonds of understanding.

Karima Benyaich
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Ties that José Manuel Albares hopes to rebuild. "Would I like him to come back? Yes", the foreign minister replied, referring to the probable return of Ambassador Benyaich to Madrid. Among other tasks, Albares took over the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from former minister González Laya with the aim of re-establishing bilateral relations with Morocco. With the same intention in mind, he travelled to Washington, where Secretary of State Antony Blinken was waiting for him.

In addition to the crisis in Ukraine, Albares discussed the current state of relations with Morocco and the question of Western Sahara with the top representative of US diplomacy. A region over which the United States recognised Moroccan sovereignty in exchange for Morocco normalising its diplomatic ties with Israel in the framework of the Abraham Accords, formalised under the Trump Administration.

In this regard, Albares said that it should not surprise anyone that "Spain and the United States, two countries in the group of friends of the Sahara, are talking about a conflict that has been going on for decades". The Foreign Minister stressed the need to find solutions, because it affects "thousands of people, many of them very young" and resolving it is a "moral imperative", according to EFE news agency.

Albares' declarations preceded a new sign of rapprochement from the Spanish Royal House. During the opening of FITUR (International Tourism Fair) in Madrid, Felipe VI and Letizia stopped at the Moroccan stand and held a brief conversation with those present. A stop in addition to the speech he made a few days earlier in which he reached out to the authorities of the Alawi Kingdom.

José Manuel Albares
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Morocco considers these signals to be positive, but the background to the breakdown in relations lies in the Western Sahara question. Anything less than recognition of Rabat's proposal for the region, which involves a regime of autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty, will not satisfy the Alaouite Kingdom. Minister Albares declined to comment on these terms.

"Spain does not, of course, dictate the position of any country in any conflict in the world", the foreign minister declared. There is no sign that Spain is going to change its position on the matter, nor align it with those of the United States or France. Albares, however, did charge against the immobility and blocking of the dispute.

Meanwhile, Spain is awaiting the return of Morocco's ambassador to Madrid, Karima Benyaich, after her departure in May. Her return would mean the definitive return of diplomacy and stability. Although Minister Albares stressed the fluidity of relations with his Moroccan interlocutor even without a permanent representative, Benyaich's return would speed up the dynamics of the reunion.