What You Need To Know:
This morning, the US State Department of Near Eastern Affairs announced the visit of Assistant Secretary Joshua Harris to Morocco and Algeria, stating “Harris is travelling to Morocco and Algeria to consult on regional security and reaffirm full U.S. support for the @UN political process for Western Sahara.”
MINURSO, or the ‘UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara’ began in 1991. Until 1976, the territory of Western Sahara on the northwest coast of Africa which lies between Morocco, Algeria and Mauritania was under Spanish jurisdiction as a result of a protectorate granted by the Spanish Government after Emilio Bonelli signed treaties with the inhabitants of the areas sometime after 1884.
In 1957, newly independent Morocco laid claim to the territory, followed by newly independent Mauritania also laying claim to the territory in 1960 and 1963 respectively. Additionally, the existence of phosphate deposits in Bu Craa led to mining operations beginning under the Spanish in 1972. As a result, an indigenous insurgency (Frente Popular Front, para la Liberación de Saguia el-Hamra y de Río de Oro (Frente POLISARIO)) by the nomadic Sahrawi in the region led to the Spanish relinquishing their claim to the territory. Morocco was allocated the northern two-thirds of the region, which contained the phosphate deposits, while Mauritania gained the southern third. Following the Spanish pullout, Frente POLISARIO (backed by Algeria since 1975) clashed with the Moroccan and Mauritanian armies until the UN brokered a ceasefire in 1991 under the MINURSO mandate.
According to MINURSO, “[It was] These tensions [that] led to the establishment of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) in 1991, in accordance with the settlement plan for a transitional period for the preparation of a referendum, in which the people of Western Sahara would choose between independence and integration with Morocco. Despite that the ceasefire has generally held since that time, negotiations between the two sides have repeatedly deadlocked, and a referendum has yet to occur.
America Maintains Neutrality:
The US states “It has long supported fostering a just, lasting, and mutually acceptable political solution in the Western Sahara.”
According to Professor of Political Sciences Abdel-Rahim Al-Manar Slimi for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “The neutral role that the United States insists on maintaining also shows the different nature of its alliances with either side of the conflict. Morocco is an old ally that goes back to the Cold War and is a geostrategic gateway to southern Europe and Africa. It also provides the United States with political access to the Arab World, and Washington often uses Morocco as an “experimental field” in which it tests reforms and democratic efforts designed for the region. As for Algeria, the United States has taken an economic interest in the country following the end of the Cold War. The United States sees Algeria as a potential investment market and the scene of a future economic contest with China, a remnant of the Cold War rivalry.”