The White House said in a statement last week that “Morocco’s autonomy plan is the only realistic option to reach a just, lasting and mutually acceptable solution to the dispute over Western Sahara”.
But the move has been criticized for breaking the status quo over a decades-old conflict.
Much of Western Sahara – a former territory of Spain – is de facto administered by Morocco after its invasion in 1975, while the self-proclaimed democratic Sahrawi Arab Republic controls a small part of the territory. Negotiations between the two parties have been at a diplomatic impasse for decades, with the United Nations calling for a form of self-determination for the Saharawi people.
Baker said recognition of Morocco’s claim would further thwart any hope of negotiations and could undermine US alliances in the region. He pointed in particular to Algeria, which supports the Saharawi Polisario Front and which is Morocco’s main rival in the Maghreb. Algeria is a major strategic partner of the United States in North Africa, says Baker.
“The Trump administration’s recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara is a major and unfortunate change in long-standing American policy under the Democratic and Republican administrations,” Baker wrote. “Mixing the Abraham’s accords with the conflict in Western Sahara, clearly and unequivocally a matter of self-determination, will neither strengthen nor expand the accords. “
Baker was Secretary of State from 1989 to 1992 under President George HW Bush and was the UN the Secretary General’s envoy for Western Sahara shortly after.
Baker is not the only one to condemn this decision, which breaks with the positions of the United Nations, the European Union and the African Union. Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) Condemned the move last week, saying he found the policy change “shocking and deeply disappointing.” Inhofe said he was “saddened that the rights of the people of Western Sahara have been sold off”.
Former national security adviser John Bolton also overturned the decision on Tuesday and urged President-elect Joe Biden to reverse it.
“Trump’s decision to throw the Saharawi people under the bus thwarts three decades of American support for its self-determination through a referendum of the Saharawi people on the future status of the territory,” Bolton wrote in Foreign Policy.