After four months of silence, President Joe Biden faces increased international and domestic pressure to clarify whether he will uphold the agreement of his predecessor, Donald Trump, under which Washington recognized Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara in exchange for a normalization of relations with Israel.
The president has been under pressure to make a decision from Democratic and Republican senators, as well as from powerful pro-Israel lobbies. In addition, some of his allies in Europe, such as Madrid and Berlin, are now experiencing unprecedented diplomatic crises with Morocco.
In spite of everything, the State Department repeats what it has been saying since Biden arrived at the White House on January 20.
The official line is “no decision has been made” and a review of Washington’s policy towards that part of the world is underway, as has been done with North Korea or Cuba.
“We are consulting privately with the parties on the best way forward and we have nothing further to announce,” a State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told EFE.
Silence is what prevails in this matter, although two weeks ago the Axios portal reported that, during a call, the Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, had told his Moroccan counterpart, Nasser Bourita, that for the moment he had no plans to reverse Trump’s decision.
At the time, the State Department’s response was the same: we are reviewing this policy and there is nothing to see here.
However, in the opinion of several analysts, Washington will not be able to maintain this silence for long and is faced with a choice between three possibilities.
Biden’s first option is to backtrack and return to the “status quo” before Trump, i.e. not to recognize Moroccan sovereignty over the territories it has occupied since 1975 in the former Spanish colony of Western Sahara, considered by the UN as a non-self-determined territory in the process of self-determination.
Another possibility would be to maintain recognition of Moroccan sovereignty, but make it conditional on diplomatic progress in resolving the conflict, Jacob Mundy, a professor at Colgate University in New York State, explained to Efe.
The third scenario would be to uphold Trump’s presidential proclamation, but not make any decisions that would “make it a reality.” For example, Biden could refuse to allocate funds for the opening of an American consulate in Western Sahara, as his predecessor had announced.
“The truth is I don’t know what direction the Administration will take,” Mundy acknowledges.
How long will the silence last?
The current U.S. silence, however, is “unsustainable” because it could have dire consequences for the stability of North Africa, as the situation in Ceuta shows, Riccardo Fabiani, director of the International Crisis Group for that region, told EFE news agency.
“What’s happening in Ceuta shows very well that if you leave the problem untreated, eventually that problem comes back and there are consequences,” Fabiani argued.
Of particular concern to Washington could be the attitude of Morocco, which has experienced some tense hours with Spain after the arrival in the Spanish city of Ceuta of more than 8,000 migrants, while the leader of the Polisario Front, Brahim Gali, receives medical attention in Spain.
In addition, Morocco maintains a diplomatic pulse with Berlin and has suspended all contacts with the German embassy in Rabat apparently because of disagreements over Western Sahara.