Pompeo: U.S. Opening Virtual Consulate in Western Sahara, Effective Immediately

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U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo answering questions after speaking on China foreign policy at Georgia Tech, December 9, 2020.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo answering questions after speaking on China foreign policy at Georgia Tech, December 9, 2020. Credit: Jessica McGowan - AFP

WASHINGTON – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Thursday that the United States will open a consulate in Western Sahara, further entrenching U.S. recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over the disputed territory.

“Pleased to announce the beginning of the process to establish a U.S. consulate in Western Sahara, and the inaugurationof a virtual presence post effective immediately!” Pompeo tweeted. “We look forward topromotingeconomic and social development, and to engage the people of this region.” The State Department added that the virtual presence would be managed by the U.S. Embassy in Morocco’s capital, Rabat.

The Trump administration’s recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara was part of a broader deal earlier this month to establish diplomatic ties between Israel and Morocco, which became the fourth Arab state to normalize relations with Israel in recent months.

Shortly after 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.

Morocco said earlier this week that it does not view its agreement to normalize ties with Israel as part of the Abraham Accords. Explaining its refusal to sign a normalization agreement with Israel, Morocco said it already had overt diplomatic relations with Israel in the past.

Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, however, explicitly said the agreement with Morocco was part of the Abraham Accords, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it a “historic peace agreement.”

A view of a border checkpoint between Morocco and Mauritania in Guerguerat, located in the Western Sahara, November 23, 2020. Credit: FADEL SENNA - AFP

Earlier this week, Morocco and Israel signed a number of low-level cooperation agreements during a visit by a joint Israeli-U.S. delegation headed by Trump administration senior adviser Jared Kushner and Meir Ben-Shabbat, who heads Israel’s National Security Council.

The Kushner visit and Pompeo’s move come against the backdrop of Republican opposition to the recognition of Morocco’s claim over Western Sahara.

Former 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, called on President-elect Joe Biden to reverse the move when he takes office next month.

Sen. Jim Inhofe, the Republican chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he will “make every effort to make sure that we will go back to the policy that we had.”

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