Deputy Secretary Sullivan visited Rabat last week and offered what the Moroccan press reported as encouraging news. One outlet even ran with the title, “US says it backs Morocco autonomy plan for Western Sahara.” However, upon further examination, the title is more misleading than accurate. Sullivan’s comments, as reported, while positive, unfortunately do not break new ground.
As reported by Arab News and North Africa Post, the Deputy Secretary’s comments stating that the US views “Morocco’s autonomy plan for Western Sahara as one potential approach to addressing the situation… It is a serious realistic credible plan that is able to satisfy the aspiration of the people of Western Sahara” is a repetition of those made in previous years by various US government officials. In 2007 the words “serious and credible” were added to the UN resolutions and US statements and, in 2011, the word “realistic” was added by Secretary Clinton.
Last week, Deputy Secretary Sullivan also added that, “our policy in this regard has not changed”. Unfortunately, these comments fall short of others made by former Administrations. This quote is most likely is based on a larger quote from Secretary Hillary Clinton in 2009, in which she said, “This is a plan that originated in the Clinton administration. It was reaffirmed in the Bush administration and it remains the policy of the United States in the Obama administration… I don’t want anyone in the region or elsewhere to have any doubt about our policy, which remains the same.”
This followed a public statement, previously kept private between the parties, by Bush White House spokesman Dana Perino, who said on June 23, 2008, “Yes, the President sent a letter to King Mohammed. It reiterated the U.S. position, first announced in the UN Security Council, that autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty is the only feasible solution for the Western Sahara dispute and our support for substantive negotiations on this matter within the U.N.-led framework”.
The Deputy Secretary’s reference to the policy not changing must refer to its first formulation in 1999 during the second Clinton Administration when it proposed a political solution, comprising an internationally accepted form of autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty. Morocco later agreed to this approach and eventually proposed it to the Security Council in 2007.
Based on this information, some could argue that the policy since the Clinton Administration, strengthened by the Bush and Obama administrations, has been to support a solution based on Moroccan sovereignty with autonomy for the residents of the territory.
Deputy Secretary Sullivan’s comments, although well intentioned and positive, don’t break new ground, but do provide an opportunity to enhance recent public statements.
Morocco should explain this history to the Trump Administration and press for clear support. Rather than shortening Secretary Clinton’s quote or not acknowledging Dana Perino’s comment, there is an opportunity now to clarify both by stating:
“It is the view of this Administration and the United States Government that Morocco’s initiative to negotiate a solution to the Western Sahara based on Moroccan sovereignty and a broad autonomy for the region is the only credible, serious, realistic and viable option to resolve this long standing issue. We urge all parties to accept this as the basis for good faith negotiations.”
In an era of seeking cuts at the UN, now may be an ideal time to press for clarification and resolution of this matter which would also count this in the win column for the Trump Administration.