Thursday, July 9, 2009
Obama reverses Bush-backed Morocco plan in favor of Polisario state
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama has backed a Polisario state, ending U.S.
support for a Moroccan plan to establish autonomy for Western Sahara. Morocco
has warned the West that such a state could become a haven for Al Qaida and
other terror organizations.
Diplomatic sources said the Obama administration has disassociated itself from a
Moroccan plan for autonomy for the disputed Western Sahara. They said the White
House no longer sees itself as committed to the endorsement by then-President
George Bush of Western Sahara autonomy.
"The United States no longer supports or endorses the Moroccan autonomy plan," a
diplomatic source said. "Instead, the administration has returned to the
pre-Bush position that there could be an independent Polisario state in Western
"The Moroccans have become highly concerned by the U.S. reversal," the source
said. "It calls into question whether Obama sees himself as committed to
anything agreed to by his predecessors, which is a key factor in diplomacy."
In 2007, Rabat launched its plan to end the 35-year-old dispute with the
Algerian-backed Polisario by offering autonomy to Western Sahara, 80 percent of
which has been under Moroccan control.
At the time, Morocco persuaded such allies as France and the United States that
a Polisario-dominated state would become a haven for Islamic insurgency groups,
including Al Qaida.
But the sources said the administration dropped U.S. support for Western Sahara
autonomy in June 2009. They said the White House ordered the State Department to
interpret the United Nations mediation effort between Morocco and Polisario as
including the option of statehood. In 2008, a Security Council report determined
that Polisario's demand for independence for Western Sahara was unfeasible.
Obama reversed U.S. policy on Western Sahara in a letter to Morocco's King
Mohammed in June, the sources said. The letter, which focused on a U.S. request
for Morocco's help to advance the Arab-Israeli peace process, ended with a
reference to UN-sponsored talks on Western Sahara.
"I share your commitment to the UN-led negotiations as the appropriate forum to
achieve a mutually agreed solution," Obama wrote. "My government will work with
yours and others in the region to achieve an outcome that meets the people's
need for transparent governance, confidence in the rule of law, and equal
administration of justice."
Unlike Bush, Obama did not reiterate support for Morocco's autonomy plan for
Western Sahara. Several days after the Obama letter, the sources said, U.S.
envoy Christopher Ross arrived in Rabat and pressed for unilateral Moroccan
concessions to Polisario, which has threatened to renew war with the North
The sources said Ross urged Morocco to accept Polisario's demand to ease
security measures in Western Sahara as a condition for resuming negotiations.
They said the U.S. appeal violated a resolution by the UN Security Council in
April 2009 that called for direct and unconditional negotiations.