The United Nations Secretary General’s Personal Envoy to Western Sahara, Christopher Ross, said in a closed doors meeting briefing before the Security Council on Tuesday that Morocco foresees no political solution to the conflict as long as Algeria is not brought to the negotiations table in “a formal way.”
While describing the step he took since last April to bridge the gap between Morocco on the one hand, the Polisario and Algeria on the other hand, in order to reach a political settlement to the conflict, Ross said that his efforts were fruitless.
“To this end, I visited the region three times in September, October, and November. Unfortunately, these efforts have not borne any real fruit to date,” he said.
“The Polisario has confirmed that it is ready to resume face-to-face talks even in the absence of new ideas. Morocco remains unready to do so without significant preparation through shuttle diplomacy,” he added.
The UN envoy pointed out Morocco’s emphasis that Algeria should be formally involved as part of the negotiations and that no progress will be achieved as long as this has not been achieved.
“In September, as a “new idea” to explore in shuttle diplomacy, my Moroccan interlocutors suggested that Algeria be brought into the negotiations in a formal way,” he noted.
“The Minister of Foreign Affairs reiterated this to me during my two subsequent visits, insisting that my priority must be to bring Algeria to the negotiating table as a formal party or at least as an “actor” and that no progress will be possible until I succeed.”
Algeria refuses to “bilateralize” the conflict
The UNSG’s personal envoy pointed out that Morocco’s suggestion was rejected by Algerian authorities, who insist that the conflict is “only” between Morocco and the Polisario, and refuse to turn it into a bilateral issue between Rabat and Algiers.
The Algerian President “received me in November and indicated that his country’s “immutable position” of support for Western Saharan self-determination will not change. He confirmed what the Minister of State and Foreign Affairs had stated on earlier occasions reiterating Algeria’s refusal to join the negotiating process as a formal party,” Ross said.
“The Minister of State himself further rejected any efforts to “bilateralise” the Western Sahara conflict as an issue between Algeria and Morocco, recalling that since 1975 the conflict has been between the Kingdom of Morocco and the Polisario Front,” he added.
Morocco has long called on the UN to include Algeria as a fully-fledged party of the conflict, insisting that the Polisario would not exist without Algiers’ backing and diplomatic support.
Two years after its inception in May 1973, Algeria has been offering financial, political and diplomatic support to the Polisario, and hosting the Saharawis who left the Sahara in 1975 in five refugee camps in Tindouf, in southwestern Algeria.
Autonomy plan as only solution to the conflict
The UN envoy pointed that for Morocco the UNSC call for a political process does not “bring the status of Western Sahara into question, inasmuch as “the Sahara is already Moroccan,” and that what Rabat is willing to negotiate are the details of its autonomy initiative.
In recent years, Morocco has been adamant in insisting that the autonomy is all it can offer to reach a political settlement to the conflict. This position has been reiterated by King Mohammed VI in his recent speeches on the occasion of the 39th and 40th anniversaries of the Green March in November 2014 and November 2015.
In April 2007, Morocco presented to the Security Council an autonomy plan that offers the Saharawis exclusive competence over local issues. The plan was described by veto-wielding countries, such as France and the United States, as a “serious and realistic,” option likely to pave the way towards finding a mutually acceptable solution to the conflict.
During king Mohammed VI’s meeting with President Barack Obama in Washington D.C. in November 2013, the White House said that “Morocco’s autonomy plan is serious, realistic and credible.”
“It represents a potential approach that can satisfy the aspirations of the people in the Western Sahara to run their own affairs in peace and dignity,” the White House said.