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Spain bets on US mediation to resolve crisis with Morocco | Mohamed Alaoui

RABAT – Spain has begun looking for mediation to resolve a crisis with Morocco, local Spanish media reports confirmed, at a time when Madrid is increasingly concerned about the economic and other repercussions of the continued escalation with Rabat.

In parallel with local reports indicating that Madrid is betting on American mediation to end the conflict with Rabat, the Spanish newspaper “El Mundo” said that Morocco refused to renew the contract for running the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline, which links the Hassi R’mel field in Algeria through Morocco with Cordoba in Andalusia, Spain, where it is connected with the Spanish and Portuguese gas grids. Launched in 1996, the pipeline supplies mainly Spain and Portugal, as well as Morocco with natural gas.

Observers view Morocco’s decision not to renew the agreement signed 25 years ago as a sovereign decision that will have effects on Algerian and Spanish economies alike.

“Morocco’s decision is a sovereign decision that does not violate the terms of the contract, the validity of which will expire this year,” said Reda al-Falah, a professor of international law. Falah noted that Morocco’s plans to abandon its imports of Algerian gas are rooted in economic considerations as the kingdom hopes to reduce its dependency on Algerian gas.

Spain, on the other hand, finds itself with its back to the wall amid hopes that American mediation could help end the crisis. In recent days, Spanish media pointed to an important meeting that Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez would hold Monday with US President Joe Biden, on the sidelines of the NATO summit held in Brussels.

The meeting, however, was not on the US president’s official schedule. It later became clear that it was a 20-second meeting in the hall of the centre that hosts the summit.

Carmen Calvo, the Spanish First Deputy Prime Minister, announced earlier that Sanchez will meet Biden on the sidelines of the NATO summit, expecting that there will be talk about the need for the United States to participate in resolving the Spanish-Moroccan conflict.

President Joe Biden, Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the NATO summit at the Alliance’s headquarters, in Brussels, Belgium, June 14, 2021. (AP)
President Joe Biden, Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the NATO summit at the Alliance’s headquarters, in Brussels, Belgium, June 14, 2021. (AP)

Madrid is hoping to prod Washington into pressuring Rabat. Spain had previously criticised Washington’s decision to recognise Morocco’s sovereignty over the Western Sahara. Spain’s hostile moves led to its exclusion from the African Lion 21 manoeuvres, which are continuing in Morocco with the participation of Washington and a number of countries.

On Friday, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken had a call with his Spanish counterpart, Arancha Gonzalez Laya, and the two sides discussed the Western Sahara file.

“American mediation is possible, provided that it does not harm Morocco’s interests and that its outcomes are not circumstantial or temporary, but rather in line with the development and security challenges facing the two neighbours in the medium and long term,” Falah said.

He noted “Madrid should not use the American mediation with the same logic it used when it attempted to involve the European Union in the crisis so as to intimidate Morocco.”

In an attempt to ease the crisis with Morocco, Sanchez, on a tour of Central America, called on Morocco to help defuse the crisis and resume dialogue and cooperation, saying that “There are many more things which unite us than those which separate us.”

“We must promote a constructive agenda which will make us resume this dialogue, this cooperation which for many years has characterized Spain and Morocco,” he added.

Falah, however, said that “if Spain wishes to settle the crisis with Morocco, then it should make goodwill gestures, within the framework of the bilateral diplomatic channels that Morocco has been keen on maintaining despite the Spanish escalation and the involvement of the European Union.”

Spain insists on its position regarding the Western Sahara, in an approach that would likely complicate efforts to resolve the crisis. Earlier last week, the Spanish foreign minister told the Congress of Deputies (lower house of Parliament) that the government’s position on the Western Sahara conflict has not changed and will not change in the future.

Spanish position over Western Sahara is “constant, has not changed, will not change and is based on multilateralism and the respect of international standards and UN resolutions,” the minister said.

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