Updated: March 4, 2021
The United States announced on Thursday that it will open a consulate in Western Sahara, further inflaming tensions over the disputed African territory to please Morocco and Israel.
The announcement came only weeks after President Donald Trump said early this month that the United States would recognize Morocco’s controversial claims over the former Spanish territory as part of normalizing relations between Morocco and Israel.
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It also came only 26 days before Joseph R. Biden Jr., who may not pursue the Trump administration’s controversial policies around the world, takes office as the 46th President of the United States.
Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, whose convicted father was pardoned by the President on Wednesday, has been leading a push for the normalization of relations between Israel and its Middle East and North African neighbors. And in so doing, the Trump administration has ignored injustices, claims and pains suffered by others.
Trump’s decision to recognize Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara upended a long-held U.S. policy which aligned with the positions of the African Union, United Nations and European Union that the territory should be on a path for self-determination.
“Pleased to announce the beginning of the process to establish a U.S. consulate in Western Sahara, and the inauguration of a virtual presence post effective immediately!” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted on Thursday afternoon. “We look forward to promoting economic and social development, and to engage the people of this region.”
In a statement on Thursday, the U.S. Department of State said the virtual diplomatic presence would be managed by the U.S. Embassy in Rabat, Morocco, and that it would focus on economic and social development. The Trump administration plans to establish a full consulate in the region.
“The United States looks forward to this increased engagement and we will continue to support political negotiations to resolve the issues between Morocco and the POLISARIO within the framework of Morocco’s autonomy,” the State Department wrote.
The decision further inflamed tensions between Morocco and the self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, whose Polisario front retains control over some land bordering Algeria.
The African Union recognizes the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADDR) as a sovereign nation while the United Nations and the European Union classify Western Sahara as whole as a disputed territory.
Big players in Africa such as Nigeria and South Africa have recognized the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) as a sovereign nation.
Since the Madrid Accords of 1975, Morocco has administered a part of Western Sahara as the Southern Provinces, while another part known as the liberated territories, has been administered by the Polisario Front as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). Mauritania administers the western half of the Ras Nouadhibou Peninsula. A United Nations-monitored ceased-fire has been in effect since September 1991.
Before Morocco invaded it, and established de facto control over most of the area, Western Sahara had remained a Spanish territory until the 1970s.
The recognition of Morocco’s claims by the Trump administration has been condemned by several prominent people in the United States, including former Secretary of State James Baker and Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma.
Baker said the recognition was unnecessary and may be a source of conflict with strategic U.S. allies in the Mediterranean, including Algeria.
Christopher Ross, a former UN Secretary General Personal Envoy for Western Sahara released a statement describing President Trump’s recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara as “a foolish and ill-considered decision.”