AP

Blinken in Morocco amid shifts in Mideast, NAfrica diplomacy

Mar 29, 2022, 5:08 AM | Updated: 2:51 pm

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Morocco's Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita at the ...

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Morocco's Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita at the Foreign Ministry in Rabat, Morocco, Tuesday, March 29, 2022. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)

(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)

RABAT, Morocco (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Tuesday for the expansion of new, major diplomatic shifts in the Middle East and North Africa that have upended the conventional wisdom about some of the region’s longest-standing disputes.

Visiting Morocco just a day after an unprecedented gathering in Israel’s Negev Desert with the Israeli foreign minister and his counterparts from four Arab nations that have normalized relations with Israel, Blinken met senior Moroccan officials to discuss opportunities for expanding those ties.

Then, in talks with the de facto leader of the United Arab Emirates at his private residence in the Moroccan capital, Blinken spoke of great opportunities and challenges in the region and beyond.

The UAE recently angered the U.S. by hosting Syrian leader Bashar Assad and has expressed unease with the Biden administration’s attempts to revive the languishing Iran nuclear deal.

In Morocco ahead of a visit to Algeria on Wednesday, Blinken was exploring options for helping end the neighbors’ festering dispute over the former Spanish colony of Western Sahara after new developments.

The meeting between Blinken and Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita was their second direct encounter in two days. The pair were together on Monday in the Israeli town of Sde Boker, where they each confirmed their countries’ commitment to supporting a revitalized Middle East with growing ties between Israel and Arab states.

Morocco, along with the UAE and Bahrain, was one of the countries to fully normalize relations with Israel during the Trump administration’s push to negotiate the so-called “Abraham Accords,” in which the U.S. pledged significant support in exchange for such recognition. While technically not an Abraham Accords signatory, Morocco won U.S. recognition for its claim to Western Sahara in return for its agreement with Israel.

In a rare endorsement of a Trump foreign policy initiative, the Biden administration has signaled its full backing for the Abraham Accords and pledged to try to expand and strengthen them. However, while the administration has not revoked Trump’s decision on Western Sahara, it has been largely silent on the matter. U.S. plans to build a consulate in the territory have not advanced since being announced by Trump in 2020.

That has led to questions about whether Washington is fully on board with Moroccan sovereignty over the former Spanish colony.

Just last week, Spain shifted its long-standing position on the territory by backing Morocco’s plan to give Western Sahara more autonomy as long it remains under Moroccan control, calling it “the most serious, realistic and credible” initiative for resolving the decades-long dispute.

Blinken echoed the “serious, realistic and credible” phrase in addressing the Moroccan plan, but stopped short of a full endorsement, saying it represented “one potential approach” to resolving the dispute.

Bourita said the autonomy plan had been praised by many countries, including Spain and the United States, but that others — particularly in Europe — should get on board.

“We think it’s time for Europe mainly to get out of this comfort zone where people are supporting a process (and) shift into an outcome-oriented effort,” he said.

The Spanish move was immediately welcomed by Rabat, which reinstated its ambassador to Madrid after a 10-month absence. But it was sharply criticized by Algeria, which supports Western Sahara’s Polisario Front independence movement, and recalled its ambassador to Spain.

In his meetings with the two protagonists, Blinken hoped to explore the potential for compromises on Western Sahara. The vast territory, which Morocco annexed in 1976, is largely barren but rich in phosphates and faces fertile Atlantic Ocean fishing grounds.

The Polisario called Spain’s decision a “grave error” that grew out of Morocco’s leverage over the control of migrants crossing into Europe. It accuses Madrid of taking sides in a dispute that the Spanish government for decades said could only be settled in a referendum held under U.N. auspices.

Later Tuesday, Blinken met Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed to try to ease U.S.-UAE tensions over a possible resurrection of the Iran nuclear deal, the recent spat over Assad’s visit to the Emirates and Emirati concerns about rocket attacks against it by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Blinken spoke appreciatively of the UAE’s leadership and courage in normalizing its relations with Israel and noted that the Emirati foreign minister had delivered strong remarks about normalizing Arab-Israeli relations at the Negev Desert meeting in Israel.

“At the same time, we have real challenges to confront together in the region and beyond,” Blinken told Sheikh Mohammed, most of whose brief comments were inaudible.

Blinken said the U.S. is “determined to do everything we can to help you defend yourselves” against attacks by the Houthis, who have recently stepped up rocket strikes on both the UAE and Saudi Arabia. He pledged to consult with the Emiratis on the Iran nuclear negotiations and also in dealing with the effects on global energy and food security caused by Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Police clear the area following a shooting at the Kansas City Chiefs NFL football Super Bowl celebr...

Associated Press

1 dead, many wounded after shooting at Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl victory parade

One person died after 22 people were hit by gunfire in a shooting at the end of the Kansas Chiefs' Super Bowl victory celebration Wednesday.

7 days ago

This image from House Television shows House Speaker Mike Johnson of La., banging the gavel after h...

Associated Press

GOP-led House impeaches Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas — by one vote — over border management

Having failed to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas the first time, House Republicans are determined to try again Tuesday.

8 days ago

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, right, and Kenya's Defense Minister Aden Duale, left, listen during...

Associated Press

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin hospitalized with bladder issue

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has been hospitalized following symptoms pointing to an “emergent bladder issue."

10 days ago

Joel Osteen, the pastor of Lakewood Church, stands with his wife, Victoria Osteen, as he conducts a...

Associated Press

Woman firing rifle killed by 2 off-duty officers at Houston’s Lakewood Church run by Joel Osteen

A woman entered the Texas megachurch of Joel Osteen and started shooting with a rifle Sunday and was killed by two off-duty officers.

10 days ago

(Pexels photo)...

Associated Press

Baby in Kansas City, Missouri, dies after her mother mistakenly put her in an oven

An infant in Missouri died when her mother mistakenly put her down for a nap in an oven, a prosecutor said Saturday.

11 days ago

Former Arizona Department of Corrections boss Charles Ryan received probation on Feb. 9, 2024. (AP ...

Associated Press

Former Arizona corrections boss sentenced to probation over armed 2022 standoff with police

Former Arizona Corrections Director Charles Ryan was sentenced Friday to probation for his no-contest plea to a disorderly conduct charge stemming from a 2022 armed standoff at his Tempe home.

12 days ago

Sponsored Articles

...

DISC Desert Institute for Spine Care

Sciatica pain is treatable but surgery may be required

Sciatica pain is one of the most common ailments a person can face, and if not taken seriously, it could become one of the most harmful.

...

Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s 1 way to ensure your family is drinking safe water

Water is maybe one of the most important resources in our lives, and especially if you have kids, you want them to have access to safe water.

...

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Valley residents should be mindful of plumbing ahead of holidays

With Halloween in the rear-view and more holidays coming up, Day & Night recommends that Valley residents prepare accordingly.

Blinken in Morocco amid shifts in Mideast, NAfrica diplomacy