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Foreign Relations of Morocco

Morocco is a moderate Arab state which maintains close relations with Europe and the United States. The major issue in Morocco's foreign relations is its claim to Western Sahara.


As a result of Algeria's continued support for the Polisario Front in the dispute over Western Sahara, relations between Morocco and Algeria have remained strained over the past several decades, although they have full diplomatic relations and there is periodic high-level contact between the two countries.

It is a member of the UN and belongs to the Arab League, Arab Maghreb Union (UMA), Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), and the Non-Aligned Movement.

King Mohammed VI is the chairman of the OIC's Al-Quds Jerusalem Committee. Although not a member of the African Union (formerly the Organization of African Unity--OAU), Morocco remains involved in African diplomacy. It contributes consistently to UN peacekeeping efforts on the continent.

Morocco is active in Maghreb, Arab, and African affairs. It supports the search for peace and moderation in the Middle East. In 1986, then-King Hassan II took the daring step of inviting then-Israeli Prime Minister Peres for talks, becoming only the second Arab leader to host an Israeli leader.

Following the September 1993 signing of the Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles, Morocco accelerated its economic ties and political contacts with Israel. In September 1994, Morocco and Israel announced the opening of bilateral liaison offices. These offices were closed in 2000 following sustained Israeli-Palestinian violence, but Moroccan-Israeli diplomatic contacts continue.

Morocco was the first Arab state to condemn Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, and sent troops to help defend Saudi Arabia. Morocco maintains close relations with Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states, which have provided Morocco with substantial amounts of financial assistance. Morocco has supported efforts to stabilize Iraq following the downfall of Saddam Hussein.

Morocco was among the first Arab and Islamic states to denounce the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States and declare solidarity with the American people in the war against terror. Morocco has seen its own terrorism at home as well. On May 16, 2003, Moroccan suicide bombers simultaneously attacked five sites in Casablanca, killing more than 40 people and wounding over 100. More than a million people subsequently demonstrated to condemn the attacks.

Western Sahara

Morocco considers the Western Sahara part of its national territory, while Polisario insists on the right of the people of the Western Sahara to self-determination. Algeria supports self-determination of the Sahrawis. The issue remains a major stumbling block to Moroccan-Algerian relations and regional integration.

The United States has consistently encouraged the parties to work with the United Nations, and with each other, in a spirit of flexibility and compromise, to find a mutually acceptable settlement. Morocco has recently expressed willingness to lay out its plan for autonomy for the Western Sahara, and the U.S. has encouraged the kingdom to put forward a proposal for all parties to examine and directly discuss.

For more than 30 years, Morocco and the independence-seeking Popular Front of the Liberation of Saqiat al Hamra and Rio de Oro (Polisario Front) have vied for control of the Western Sahara, a former Spanish territory.

Morocco's claim to sovereignty over the Western Sahara is based largely on a historical argument of traditional loyalty of the Sahrawi tribal leaders to the Moroccan sultan as spiritual leader and ruler. The Polisario claims to represent the aspirations of the Western Saharan inhabitants for independence. Algeria claims none of the territory for itself but maintains that Sahrawis should determine the territory's future status.

From 1904 until 1975, Spain occupied the entire territory, which is divided into a northern portion, the Saguia el Hamra, and a southern two-thirds, known as Rio de Oro. In 1969, the Polisario Front was formed to combat the occupation of the territory. In November 1975, King Hassan mobilized 350,000 unarmed Moroccan citizens in what came to be known as the "Green March" into Western Sahara.

The march was designed to both demonstrate and strengthen Moroccan claims to the territory. On November 14, Spain, Morocco, and Mauritania announced a tripartite agreement for an interim administration under which Spain agreed to share administrative authority with Morocco and Mauritania, leaving aside the question of sovereignty.

With the establishment of a Moroccan and Mauritanian presence throughout the territory, however, Spain's role in the administration of the Western Sahara ceased.

After a period of hostilities, Mauritania withdrew from the territory in 1979 and signed a peace treaty with the Polisario, relinquishing all claims to the territory. Moroccan troops occupied the region vacated by Mauritania and later proclaimed the territory reintegrated into Morocco. Morocco subsequently built a fortified berm around three-fourths of Western Sahara and has de facto administrative control over 80% of the territory.

At the OAU (now African Union) summit in June 1981, King Hassan announced his willingness to hold a referendum in the Western Sahara. Subsequent meetings of an OAU Implementation Committee proposed a cease-fire, a UN peacekeeping force, and an interim administration to assist with an OAU-UN-supervised referendum on the issue of independence or annexation.

In 1984, the OAU seated a delegation of the Sahara Democratic Arab Republic (SDAR), the shadow government of the Polisario. Morocco subsequently withdrew from the OAU.

In 1988, Moroccan and Polisario representatives agreed on a joint UN/OAU settlement proposal for a referendum, but due to disagreements it never took place. In 1991, the UN brokered a cease-fire and settlement plan, and established the United Nations Mission for Referendum in Western Sahara (known by its French acronym, MINURSO), which deployed a roughly 200-person monitoring force to the territory.

The UN continues to explore with the parties ways of arriving at a mutually agreed political settlement and to promote confidence-building measures between the parties in the interim. In 2003, former Secretary of State James Baker, working as UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s Personal Envoy, put forward a peace plan calling for a referendum on issues of autonomy or integration with Morocco.

While the Polisario Front and the Algerian Government accepted the plan, Morocco rejected it. After a seven-year effort to assist the parties in coming to an agreement, James Baker resigned as Personal Envoy in June 2004. In August of the same year, Kofi Annan appointed Alvaro de Soto Special Representative for the Western Sahara, to continue Baker’s work. Special Representative de Soto left MINURSO in May 2005, and was replaced in July 2005 by Peter van Walsum of the Netherlands.

The Western Sahara dispute remains the primary impediment to regional integration and development goals. The parties were able to set aside some of their differences when, in August 2004, U.S. Senator Richard Lugar led a mission to the region that resulted in the release of 404 Moroccan prisoners of war who had long been held by the Polisario. Today, approximately 90,000 Sahrawi refugees live in camps around Tindouf, Algeria.

The exact number of refugees living in these camps is not known since there has never been a reliable census of the population. Several thousand Sahrawis also live in the Moroccan-controlled area of Western Sahara among a large number of Moroccan settlers.

US-Moroccan Relations

U.S.-Moroccan relations, characterized by mutual respect and friendship, have remained strong through cooperation and sustained high-level dialogue. King Hassan II visited the United States several times during his reign as King, meeting with Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton. King Mohammed VI has continued his father’s tradition.

Morocco was the first country to seek diplomatic relations with the Government of the United States in 1777, and remains one of our oldest and closest allies in the region. Formal U.S. relations with Morocco date from 1787, when the two nations negotiated a Treaty of Peace and Friendship.

Renegotiated in 1836, the treaty is still in force, constituting the longest unbroken treaty relationship in U.S. history. As testament to the special nature of the U.S.-Moroccan relationship, Tangier is home to the oldest U.S. diplomatic property in the world, and the only building on foreign soil that is listed in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, the American Legation in Tangier (now a museum).

As a stable, democratizing, and liberalizing Arab Muslim nation, Morocco is important for U.S. interests in the Middle East. Accordingly, U.S. policy toward Morocco seeks sustained and strong engagement, and identifies priorities for reform, conflict resolution, counterterrorism cooperation, and public outreach.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and its predecessor agencies have managed an active and effective assistance program in Morocco since 1953, for a cumulative amount exceeding $2 billion.

The amount of USAID assistance to Morocco in FY 2005 was $28.2 million. USAID’s current multi-sectoral strategy (2004-2008) consists of three strategic objectives in creating more opportunities for trade and investment, basic education and workforce training, and government responsiveness to citizen needs.

The Peace Corps has been active in Morocco for more than 40 years, with the first group of 53 volunteers arriving in the country in 1963. Since that time, nearly 4,000 volunteers have served in Morocco, and have served in a variety of capacities including lab technology, urban development, commercial development, education, rural water supply, small business development, beekeeping, and English training. In 2005, 190 volunteers served in Morocco, working in four sectors: health, youth development, small business, and the environment.

International disputes

Claims and administers Western Sahara, but sovereignty remains unresolved - UN-administered cease-fire has remained in effect since September 1991, but attempts to hold a referendum have failed and parties thus far have rejected other proposals; Morocco protests Spain's control over the coastal enclaves of Ceuta, Melilla, and Penon de Velez de la Gomera, the islands of Penon de Alhucemas and Islas Chafarinas, and surrounding waters; Morocco also rejected Spain's unilateral designation of a median line from the Canary Islands in 2002 to set limits to undersea resource exploration and refugee interdiction; Morocco allowed Spanish fishermen to fish temporarily off the coast of Western Sahara after an oil spill soiled Spanish fishing grounds.

International organization participation

ABEDA, ACCT, AfDB, AFESD, AMF, AMU, EBRD, FAO, G-77, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICCt (signatory), ICRM, IDA, IDB, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, IMSO, Interpol, IOC, IOM, IPU, ISO, ITSO, ITU, ITUC, LAS, MIGA, MONUC, NAM, OAS (observer), OIC, OIF, OPCW, OSCE (partner), PCA, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNIDO, UNITAR, UNOCI, UNWTO, UPU, WCL, WCO, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTO.

Last Updated on Monday 4th August 2008