The US, Spain and Morocco

The Biden administration’s equidistance principle weakens Sanchez’s position when negotiating the future of the bases.

The very brief interaction between U.S. President Joe Biden and Spanish President Pedro Sanchez, lasting less than a minute, frustrated the expectations that had been raised after there had been no contact between the two — not even a phone call — since Biden’s took office in the White House. However, the disappointment was partially offset by the announcement that the next NATO summit, where the organization is to approve its new strategic concept, will be held in Spain.

Despite the fleeting nature of the meeting, Sanchez explained that he had talked with Biden about strengthening the bilateral defense agreement, which includes the U.S. bases at Rota and Morón de la Frontera; about Latin America, particularly the problems of immigration; and about the “progressive agenda” of the U.S. president. But not a word about one of the most serious crises affecting Spain, such as relations with Morocco, a fellow strategic ally of the United States.

The brevity of the meeting between Biden and Sanchez is all the more surprising after the telephone conversation between U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Minister of Foreign Affairs Arancha Gonzalez Laya, in which, in addition to the ties of friendship and the transatlantic relationship, the American side showed its concern about emigration, which the U.S. maintains should occur “through regular channels and in a safe, orderly and humane manner.”* It’s possible the Americans were referring to emigration in Central America, but what happened in Ceuta fits perfectly into what cannot happen.

The U.S. silence on Morocco seems to be one more indicator that it has no intention of reversing the decision Donald Trump made days before leaving the White House when he supported Moroccan ownership of Western Sahara in exchange for recognition and improved relations between Morocco and Israel. Trump’s decision is contrary to international law and to the decisions of the U.N., which continues to defend the holding of a referendum of self-determination in the former Spanish colony. It is the European Union that will have to pronounce itself in an even more uncomfortable position because of the U.S. position.

At the height of the migration crisis in Ceuta on May 18, when Morocco encouraged 9,000 of its citizens, including hundreds of children, to jump the border and enter the Spanish city, Blinken acknowledged Rabat’s “key” role in the stability of the region. Washington did not express itself clearly in favor of Spain in the crisis, as the EU did, although the U.S. position has subsequently evolved. U.S. diplomacy has made it known that the current Biden administration has “profound differences” with Trump’s decisions, but it does not appear that these divergences will go so far as to overturn the recognition of Western Sahara as part of Morocco. Another sign of distention was the U.S. refusal to hold joint military maneuvers with Morocco African Lion in Saharan waters and territory, as Rabat had announced. All in all, Washington has maintained an equidistant position in the conflict between two partners and allies — an equanimity that weakens Sanchez’s position when it comes to putting on the table issues such as the role of the bases in Washington’s new African strategy.

*Editor’s Note: This quotation, accurately translated, could not be verified.

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