James Baker blasts U.S. 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 to achieve a just, lasting, and mutually acceptable solution to the dispute over Western Sahara.”

But the move was criticized for rupturing the status quo on a decades-old conflict.

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

Baker said recognizing Morocco’s claim would further logjam any hope for negotiations and could jeopardize American alliances in the region. He pointed in particular to Algeria, which backs the Sahrawi Polisario Front and is Morocco’s main rival in the Maghreb. Algeria is a major U.S. strategic partner in North Africa, Baker points out.

“The Trump administration’s recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara is a major and unfortunate change in long-standing U.S. policy under both Democrat and Republican administrations,” Baker wrote. “Mixing the Abraham Accords with the Western Sahara conflict, clearly and unequivocally an issue of self-determination, will not strengthen or expand the accords.”

Baker served as secretary of State from 1989 to 1992 under President George H. W. Bush and was the U.N. secretary-general’s envoy for Western Sahara shortly after.

Baker is not alone in condemning the move, which breaks from the positions of the United Nations, European Union and African Union. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) condemned the move last week, saying he found the shift in policy “shocking and deeply disappointing.” Inhofe said he was “saddened that the rights of the Western Sahara people have been traded away.”

Former National Security Adviser John Bolton also panned the decision Tuesday and urged President-elect Joe Biden to reverse it.

“Trump’s decision to throw the Sahrawi people under the bus ditches three decades of U.S. support for their self-determination via a referendum of the Sahrawi people on the territory’s future status,” Bolton wrote in Foreign Policy.

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