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US opens ‘virtual’ diplomatic post in Western Sahara ahead of consulate

State Department announces move after recognizing Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed territory as part of US-brokered Israel normalization deal earlier this month

US Presidential adviser Jared Kushner, center, and National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat, center-right, arrive at the Royal Palace in the Moroccan capital Rabat, December 22, 2020. (Fadel Senna/AFP)
US Presidential adviser Jared Kushner, center, and National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat, center-right, arrive at the Royal Palace in the Moroccan capital Rabat, December 22, 2020. (Fadel Senna/AFP)

WASHINGTON — The United States will open a “virtual” diplomatic post in Western Sahara ahead of a consulate, the State Department said Thursday, after recognizing Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed territory earlier this month.

The announcement of the virtual post follows US President Donald Trump’s surprise declaration in early December supporting Morocco’s control of the desert territory, which is claimed by the Algerian-backed pro-independence Polisario Front rebels.

Morocco became the third Arab country to normalize ties in US-brokered agreements in recent months, following the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Sudan has also announced plans to normalize ties with Israel, though no official agreements have been signed.

Jared Kushner, son-in-law and adviser to the US president, took his seat Tuesday alongside an Israeli delegation on the first Israel-Morocco direct commercial flight, before signing a declaration which provides for the opening of a US consulate in the Western Sahara port city of Dakhla.

During the visit, Israel and Morocco announced they would move to swiftly reopen diplomatic missions in each country and signed four memoranda of understanding on different topics in order to solidify their normalization agreement.

“Pleased to announce the beginning of the process to establish a US consulate in Western Sahara,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted Thursday.

“Effective immediately, we are inaugurating a virtual presence post for Western Sahara,” he added in a statement, specifying that the post would be “followed soon by a fully functioning consulate.”

“This virtual presence post will be managed by the US Embassy in Rabat” with a focus on promoting economic and social development, Pompeo said, without providing a timetable for the consulate.

He added that the United States “will continue to support political negotiations to resolve the issues between Morocco and the Polisario.”

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