* House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing cites “longstanding US policy” on Western Sahara that advocates “autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty.” *
Washington, DC (April 9, 2014) — At a House hearing today on US policy toward Morocco, key members of the Foreign Affairs Committee reiterated the United States’ commitment to supporting Morocco through its ongoing democratization and praised the North African country as a model for moderation and a strategic ally.
“Since becoming the first nation to formally recognize the newly independent United States, Morocco and the US have shared a strategic and bilateral relationship,” said Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL). “It is one that has continued to strengthen in recent years.” In her statement announcing the hearing, Ros-Lehtinen said that “Morocco has stood up as a model of moderation and the hope for a democratic future in the Middle East and North Africa,” a region that has seen rising threats of terrorism and extremism. She said “It’s important that the US continue to assist Morocco in countering these threats.”
On the Western Sahara, the Chairwoman, Ranking Member Ted Deutch (D-FL), and Chairman of the Morocco Caucus Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY) reiterated their support for longstanding US policy on the Western Sahara that advocates for a solution based on a formula of autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Egypt and Maghreb Affairs William Roebuck, who testified at the hearing, noted that “US policy toward the Western Sahara has remained consistent for many years.”
The hearing comes less than a week after Secretary of State John Kerry joined Moroccan Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar in Rabat to co-chair the 2nd meeting of the Morocco-US Strategic Dialogue. Kerry hailed Morocco’s leadership on reforms as well as security and stability in the region, pledging continued US support. Roebuck and Alina Romanowski, USAID Middle East bureau, also testifying at the hearing, echoed Kerry’s words.
“The United States and Morocco enjoy a very strong bilateral relationship,” said Roebuck in opening remarks, “focused on promoting regional stability, supporting democratic reform efforts, countering violent extremism, and strengthening trade and cultural ties.” He remarked on “the growing role” of Morocco’s National Council for Human Rights “as a credible and proactive defender of human rights,” and cited the country’s “important steps forward in strengthening the protection of human rights.”
The hearing also discussed the 2014 Appropriations Bill passed by Congress and signed by President Obama earlier this year that included for the first time a law instructing that US assistance designated for Morocco be used in the Western Sahara. While Congress has expressed strong bipartisan support for such a measure in the past—in the forms of letters, reports, and a voice vote in July—the bill represented a significant reinforcement of US policy supporting a solution to the Western Sahara conflict based on autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty and recognizing the Moroccan Autonomy initiative as “serious, realistic, and credible.”
The report accompanying the Appropriations Bill requires the State Department to work with USAID to write a report to Congress by mid-April that identifies development programs in Morocco—including in Western Sahara—that are eligible to receive Title III funding as well as the steps taken to resolve the longstanding dispute over the Western Sahara, based on autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty.
* For remarks by Members of Congress at House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing (video), go to: http://foreignaffairs.house.gov/hearing/subcommittee-hearing-us-policy-towards-morocco
* For full statement by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Egypt and Maghreb Affairs William Roebuck: http://docs.house.gov/meetings/FA/FA13/20140409/102114/HHRG-113-FA13-Wstate-RoebuckW-20140409.pdf
* For full statement by the Alina Romanowski of USAID’s Bureau for the Middle East: http://docs.house.gov/meetings/FA/FA13/20140409/102114/HHRG-113-FA13-Wstate-RomanowskiA-20140409.pdf
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