Morocco cuts Iran ties over alleged Hezbollah arms delivery to separatist group

Rabat recalls ambassador in light of ‘irrefutable proof’ that Tehran-allied terror group aided Polisario Front, which seeks independence for Western Sahara

A view of the embassy of Iran in Rabat, Morocco, Tuesday, May 1, 2018. (AP Photo/Mosa'ab Elshamy)
A view of the embassy of Iran in Rabat, Morocco, Tuesday, May 1, 2018. (AP Photo/Mosa'ab Elshamy)

RABAT, Morocco — Morocco has cut diplomatic ties with Iran over its alleged involvement in the delivery of weapons from its Lebanese ally Hezbollah to a group seeking independence for Western Sahara, Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita said Tuesday.

Bourita said “a first shipment of weapons was recently” sent to the Algerian-backed Polisario Front via an “element” at the Iranian embassy in Algiers.

“Morocco has irrefutable proof, names, and specific actions to corroborate the complicity between the Polisario and Hezbollah,” he told reporters.

The decision to sever ties with Tehran is “in response to Iran’s involvement, through Hezbollah, in allying itself with the Polisario over the past two years in order to target the security and higher interests of Morocco.”

Morocco’s Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita speaks during a joint press conference with French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian in Rabat, Morocco, Monday, October 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Mosa’ab Elshamy)

Bourita was speaking upon his return from Tehran, where he said he informed his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif about Morocco’s decision.

The foreign minister said he departed Tehran along with Morocco’s ambassador to Iran.

“I will ask the Iranian embassy’s charge d’affaires to leave the kingdom as soon as possible,” Bourita added.

Morocco and Iran have had strained relations and severed diplomatic ties in the past, the last time in 2009 when Rabat cut ties with Tehran, which were restored at the end of 2014.

According to Bourita, Iran and Hezbollah have had ties with the Polisario Front since 2016 when the Lebanese Shiite terror group set up a committee to support the Polisario.

After that, he said, a Hezbollah military delegation visited the Polisario Front in the Tindouf area in southwest Algeria.

Members of the Polisario Front, the organization disputing sovereignty over Western Sahara with Morocco, mourn their leader, Mohamed Abdelaziz, during his funerals held in the Rabouni refugees camp, south western Algeria, Friday, June 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Sidali Djarboub)

The Polisario and Morocco fought for control of Western Sahara from 1975 to 1991, with Rabat taking over the desert territory before a UN-brokered ceasefire in the former Spanish colony.

Rabat considers Western Sahara an integral part of Morocco and proposes autonomy for the resource-rich territory, but the Polisario Front insists on a UN referendum on independence.

On Friday the UN Security Council backed a US-drafted resolution that urges Morocco and the Polisario Front to prepare for talks on settling the decades-old conflict.

It also renewed for six months the mandate of a UN mission that has been monitoring the ceasefire in Western Sahara since 1991.

Diplomatic efforts to end the conflict have been deadlocked since the last round of UN-sponsored talks in 2008.

Morocco maintains that negotiations on a settlement should focus on its proposal for autonomy for Western Sahara and rejects the Polisario’s insistence on an independence referendum.

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