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US official says Biden not changing position on Western Sahara

‘What we’re seeing now is a fantastic age of these normalization agreements with Israel,’ says acting assistant secretary of state in visit to Rabat

A Moroccan army vehicle drives past car wreckages in Guerguerat located in the Western Sahara on November 24, 2020, after the intervention of the royal Moroccan armed forces in the area. (Fadel SENNA / AFP)
A Moroccan army vehicle drives past car wreckages in Guerguerat located in the Western Sahara on November 24, 2020, after the intervention of the royal Moroccan armed forces in the area. (Fadel SENNA / AFP)

RABAT, Morocco — The US position on disputed Western Sahara remains unchanged under President Joe Biden’s administration, a senior State Department official said in Morocco on Wednesday.

Under former president Donald Trump, the United States became the first Western country to recognize Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara in exchange for Rabat’s normalization of relations with Israel.

“There is no change in the US position,” Joey Hood, the acting assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs, told a news conference in Rabat. “Where you may see a change is in the level of energy and emphasis we are putting on helping the UN process to really produce results.”

Hood called for the speedy appointment and backing of an envoy to the UN secretary-general “so that we can get a solution that is acceptable to all parties and will lead to peace and stability.”

Morocco laid claim to the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony with rich phosphate resources and offshore fisheries, after Spain withdrew in 1975.

But the Algeria-backed Polisario Front took up arms to demand independence there, proclaiming the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) in 1976, and fighting a 16-year war with Morocco. Morocco has offered Western Sahara autonomy, but maintains the territory is a sovereign part of the kingdom.

Israeli tourists arrive at the Marrakech-Menara International Airport on the first direct commercial flight between Israel and Morocco, on July 25, 2021. (FADEL SENNA / AFP)

Hood said the US welcomed Morocco’s decision to normalize ties with Israel last year, along with Bahrain, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates.

“What we’re seeing now is a fantastic age of these normalization agreements with Israel, including by Morocco, that are going to give future generations much more hope and much more of a foundation to build upon,” he said.

“When there’s contact between people, there’s more understanding, there are more ways of solving problems as they arise, there’s more influence to target and fix problems that we all agree need to be addressed, such as the situation of the Palestinians,” Hood added. “What the Biden administration’s support for these agreements will include is to make sure that the marginalized people, including Palestinians, are put at the center of these normalization efforts.”

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