US begins process to set up Western Sahara consulate


The move comes weeks after US President Donald Trump’s government recognized Morocco’s claims in the disputed area.

The United States has begun the process of establishing a consulate in Western Sahara, said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday, just weeks after the Donald Trump administration formally recognized Morocco’s demands for disputed territory.

In a brief statement on Thursday, Pompeo said it was “inaugurating a virtual presence post for Western Sahara with a focus on promoting economic and social development, which will soon be followed by a fully functioning consulate”.

A virtual presence allows U.S. consular officials and staff to conduct distant, diplomatic engagement without maintaining a physical location in a designated city or region.

The State Department said the Western Sahara virtual presence post would be controlled by the U.S. Embassy in Rabat, the Moroccan capital.

The Trump administration on December 10th announced it recognized Morocco’s demands for Western Sahara as part of a US-mediated agreement that saw Morocco and Israel agree to establish formal diplomatic relations.

Morocco is the fourth country to sign a standardization agreement with Israel in recent months at the request of the United States after the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan.

Moroccan forces and the Algeria-backed breakaway movement Polisario Front have been fighting over the disputed territory – a large area bordering Morocco, Mauritania and Algeria that was previously under Spanish control – for decades.

Washington’s recognition of Morocco’s demands in this area led to condemnation from the Polisario Front, which smashed it as “a blatant violation of the UN Charter and the resolutions on international legitimacy”.

The United States was the first country in the world to recognize the demands of Morocco, William Lawrence, Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at American University, told Al Jazeera at the time.

“It is a huge success for the Moroccan diplomatic effort and lobbying,” he said.

The United States has said it continues to support a Moroccan proposal to grant limited autonomy to Sahrawis under overall Moroccan control.

“The United States looks forward to this increased commitment and we will continue to support political negotiations to resolve the issues between Morocco and POLISARIO within the framework of Morocco’s autonomy plan,” Pompeo said in Thursday’s statement.

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