James Baker throws US recognition of Moroccan claims to Western Sahara

The White House said in a statement last week that “Morocco’s autonomy plan is the only realistic option for a just, lasting and mutually acceptable solution to the Western Sahara dispute.”

But the action has been criticized for breaking the status quo in a decades-long conflict.

Much of Western Sahara – a former Spanish territory – is de facto administered by Morocco after invading in 1975, while the self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic controls a small portion of the territory. Negotiations between the two sides have been in a diplomatic deadlock for decades, with the United Nations demanding a form of self-determination for the Sahrawi people.

Baker said recognizing Morocco’s statement would further undermine any hope of negotiations and could jeopardize US alliances in the region. He pointed in particular to Algeria, which supports the Polisario Sahrawi Front and is Morocco’s main rival in the Maghreb. Algeria is a major US strategic partner in North Africa, Baker said.

“The Trump administration’s recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara is a major and unfortunate change in long-term US policy under both the Democratic and Republican administrations,” Baker wrote. “Mixing the Abraham Accords with the Western Sahara conflict, clearly and unequivocally, a matter of self-determination, will not strengthen or extend the agreements.”

Baker served as Secretary of State from 1989 to 1992 under President George HW Bush and was a UN envoy to the Secretary-General for Western Sahara shortly.

Baker is not the only one who condemns this movement, which breaks with the positions of the United Nations, the European Union and the African Union. Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) Condemned the move last week, saying the policy change was “shocking and deeply disappointing”. Inhofe said he was “saddened that the rights of the people of Western Sahara have been changed.”

Former National Security Adviser John Bolton criticized the decision on Tuesday and urged President-elect Joe Biden to overturn it.

“Trump’s decision to throw the Sahrawi people under the bus gives up three decades of US support for their self-determination through a referendum on the future status of the Sahrawi people,” Bolton wrote in Foreign Policy.