US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says Washington has started the process to set up a consulate in Western Sahara, just weeks after the outgoing administration of President Donald Trump recognized Morocco’s sovereignty over the disputed desert region in the wake of the African country’s normalization of ties with Israel.
“Effective immediately, we are inaugurating a virtual presence post for Western Sahara, with a focus on promoting economic and social development, to be followed soon by a fully functioning consulate,” Pompeo said in a statement on Thursday.
“This virtual presence post will be managed by the US Embassy in Rabat,” he added, asserting that Washington would be continuing to support political negotiations to resolve the decades-old territorial dispute between Morocco and the Algeria-backed and pro-independence Polisario Front within the framework of Morocco’s autonomy plan.
Morocco and Israel agreed on December 10 to normalize relations in a deal brokered by the United States, making the North African country the fourth Arab state this year to strike a deal aimed at establishment of relations with Israel. The others were the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan.
Trump sealed the agreement in a phone call with Morocco’s King Mohammed VI. As part of the agreement, the US president agreed to recognize Morocco’s sovereignty over the Western Sahara region.
Algeria later rejected Trump’s stance, saying the step would undermine efforts to end the conflict over the desert territory.
The Algerian Foreign Ministry said the US decision “has no legal effect because it contradicts UN resolutions, especially UN Security Council resolutions on Western Sahara.”
“The proclamation would undermine the de-escalation efforts made at all levels in order to pave the way for launching a real political process,” the ministry said in a statement.
The Polisario condemned “in the strongest terms” Trump’s attempt to give to Morocco “that which does not belong to it.”
“Trump’s decision does not change the legal nature of the Sahara issue because the international community does not recognize Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara,” it said in a statement.