Pompeo says U.S. began work to set up consulate in Western Sahara


© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: US Secretary of State Pompeo and Kuwaiti FM Al-Sabah meet in Washington

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department said Thursday it began the process of establishing a U.S. consulate in Western Sahara after President Donald Trump’s government this month recognized Morocco’s sovereignty over the region.

As a departure from long-standing US policy, Washington agreed to recognize Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara, a desert region where a decades-old territorial dispute has pitted Morocco against the Algeria-backed Polisario Front, an outbreak movement seeking to establish an independent state.

The recognition was part of a US brokerage firm in which Morocco became the fourth Arab country after the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan, which normalized relations with Israel in the last four months.

“With immediate effect, we are inaugurating a virtual presence post for Western Sahara focusing on promoting economic and social development, which will soon be followed by a fully functioning consulate,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

“This virtual presence post will be administered by the US Embassy in Rabat,” Pompeo said, adding that Washington will continue to support political negotiations to resolve the issues between Morocco and the Polisario within the framework of Morocco’s autonomy plan.

Washington’s support for Moroccan sovereignty over the desert area represents the greatest political concession the United States has made to date in its quest to win Arab recognition of Israel.

The series of normalization agreements is driven in part by US-led efforts to present a united front against Iran and return Tehran’s regional influence.

Elected President Joe Biden, who succeeds Trump on January 20, will face a decision to accept the US agreement on Western Sahara, which no other Western nation has done. Western nations and the United Nations have long called for a referendum to resolve the dispute.

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