RABAT, March 18 – Spain has told Morocco that it regards its autonomy proposal for Western Sahara as “serious, credible and realistic”, Rabat said on Friday, in a move likely to ease a diplomatic dispute between Madrid and Rabat that flared last year.
The language reflects a shift in Madrid’s policy towards the dispute in Western Sahara, a territory that Morocco considers its own, but where an Algeria-backed independence movement demands a sovereign state.
In April last year, Morocco was angered after Spain admitted a Western Sahara independence leader for medical treatment using Algerian documents, saying it had not been informed.
Rabat then appeared to relax border controls with Ceuta, a Spanish enclave in northern Morocco, leading to an influx of at least 8,000 migrants, most of whom were later returned.
Spain’s foreign ministry confirmed a letter had been sent to Morocco but did not reveal the contents.
According to the royal palace in Rabat, the letter from Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sachez to King Mohammed VI said: “Spain considers the autonomy initiative presented by Morocco in 2007, as the most serious, realistic and credible basis for settling the dispute.”
The Moroccan foreign ministry said it welcomed the Spanish position and that the Spanish foreign minister would travel to Rabat by the end of March, followed by a visit from Sanchez at a later date.
In late 2020 the Polisario Front independence movement said it was resuming an armed struggle after a ceasefire that had lasted since 1990, though there has been no sign of serious fighting.
The Spanish message to Morocco referred to a shared determination to meet the challenge of migration, the royal palace said.
Rabat says its 2007 proposal to offer Western Sahara autonomy within Morocco is the most it can offer as a political solution to the conflict.
For years most countries had backed the idea of a referendum to resolve the issue – which was agreed on as part of the 1991 ceasefire and is the solution demanded by the Polisario.
However, there was never agreement on how the vote would take place and in recent years even the U.N. has stopped referring to the idea of a vote, speaking instead of seeking a realistic, mutually acceptable solution based on compromise.
Reporting by Ahmed Eljechtimi; Additional reporting by Belen Carreno in Madrid; Editing by Angus McDowall and Raissa Kasolowsky