WASHINGTON — Former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker and former National Security Adviser John Bolton, two of the most influential Republican voices on foreign policy and national security, have harshly criticized the Trump administration's recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, urging the administration of President-elect Joe Biden to reverse the move.
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The Trump administration's move was part of a broader deal to establish diplomatic ties between Israel and Morocco, which became the fourth Arab state to normalize relations with Israel as part of the Abraham Accords.
The White House stated 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."
Baker, however, echoed the United Nations, European Union and African Union in terming the deal an "astounding retreat from the principles of international law and diplomacy" in an opinion piece published in the Washington Post on Friday, calling on Biden to "rescind this rash and cynical action."
Baker, who served as the UN secretary-general’s personal envoy for Western Sahara following his time as secretary of state, praised U.S. President Donald Trump for his efforts at "rearranging the chessboard in the Middle East" by establishing peace between Israel and Arab and Muslim nations, though added that "the United States has unwisely abandoned its principles for something that will make no difference to the position of the international community and to the resolution of the conflict. Many U.S. allies and others have already made statements to that effect."
He added, "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 wrote, adding that walking back recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara would not endanger the newly established Israel-Morocco ties.
Bolton, who has become a vocal critic of Trump after serving as his national security adviser, slammed the decision in a Foreign Policy blog, saying that it is "perfectly appropriate for a nation to modify its responsibilities in light of changed national-security circumstances, but it is quite another to gratuitously destroy a commitment, with no consultation, just to make a so-called deal in a completely separate context."
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He added, "From the perspective of U.S. policy, the best outcome would be for Biden, once inaugurated, to reverse Trump’s acquiescence to Moroccan sovereignty. This will not be easy, given the expectations – misguided though they are – already built up in Rabat and Jerusalem," Bolton wrote. "If Biden wants to do a 180-degree turn, he should do so immediately on taking office, which would minimize any damage."
Bolton also claimed a U.S. reversal of Trump's policy would be in the best interest of both Biden, who could collaborate with Republican senators against the move as an example of bipartisanship, as well as for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
"Graciously accepting what a new Biden administration says....could, at essentially no cost to Israel – for which the Western Sahara is a non-issue – add to his political capital with Biden for issues that really matter, like taking on the threat posed by Iran," Bolton wrote.
Shortly following the recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, the Trump administration notified Congress of $1 billion in sales of drones and precision-guided weapons to Morocco.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, the Republican chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, slammed Trump's "shocking and deeply disappointing" actions, adding that he was "saddened that the rights of the Western Sahara people have been traded away." Inhofe also noted that he will "make every effort to make sure that we will go back to the policy that we had.”