Morocco ramps up rhetoric on Iran, denounces security threats
RABAT--Morocco ramped up its rhetoric on Iran Thursday, saying the Islamic Republic has been threatening the kingdom’s territorial integrity.
“The world knows a lot about Iran’s nuclear activities, but Iran is also working through proxies to destabilise North and West Africa,” Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita said
During an interview with the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on the sidelines of its annual meeting, which is the first to witness an official Moroccan participation, Bourita said that “Iran threatens Morocco’s territorial integrity and security” by supporting the Polisario Front, “providing the group with weapons, and training its militias to attack Morocco.”
The Moroccan top diplomat warned that Iran was expanding its sphere of influence as well, through its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah.
The Moroccan statements, which observers described as the strongest so far, come at a time when relations between the two countries are experiencing a rupture that dates back to 2018 when Rabat accused Tehran of supporting the separatist Polisario Front through the Lebanese Hezbollah militia.
Tehran has recently confirmed that there was some truth to these accusations, with the first Counsellor at the Permanent Mission of Iran to the UN Mohammad Reza Sahraei admitting his country’s support for the Polisario Front.
Sahraei said that Iran stands by what he called “the right of the Sahrawi people to self-determination,” calling on Morocco to “stop its violations of human rights in the occupied territory.”
The Iranian official even urged Morocco to “stop meddling with the internal affairs of other countries and challenging their territorial integrity,” asking Rabat “to fulfil its obligations towards the Sahrawi people, stop human rights violations and implement the United Nations resolutions.”
Four-way negotiations between Morocco, the Polisario, Algeria and Mauritania have been stalled since UN envoy Horst Kohler resigned in May 2019.
Morocco claims the entire territory and controls 80 percent, with a huge sand berm and UN peacekeepers separating a Polisario-held enclave in the east.
The peacekeepers are mandated to organise a long-stalled referendum on self-determination.
In November, the Polisario announced it regarded a 1991 ceasefire as null and void, after Morocco sent troops to reopen a key road, captured by the separatists.
On Thursday, Bourita stressed that Morocco has always been vigilant in the face of the threats “posed by Iran to our security and the security of the Moroccan people,” stressing that the Western Sahara issue is “crucial to Morocco,” and that “Moroccan territorial integrity is the key to the country’s stability.”
“Morocco is facing the same threats that Israel and the United States face from Iran. We have to work together as allies to counter Iranian moves,” he said.
In 2018, Morocco’s severed diplomatic ties with Iran, a decision taken after Rabat accused Tehran of training, funding and arming the Algeria-backed Polisario Front in Western Sahara.
Bourita at the time said Morocco had irrefutable proof, names and specific actions to corroborate complicity between the Polisario Front and Hezbollah, a Lebanese proxy of Iran’s.
That was not the first time that Morocco severed its ties with Iran. In 2009, Morocco cut relations with Iran after Rabat claimed that Tehran was trying to spread Shiism in the North African country but they were gradually restored by 2014.
The Western Sahara issue remains crucial for Morocco, which has recently scored a number of diplomatic gains, garnering support for its sovereignty over the territory.
To date, Dakhla is a host to consulates from Gambia, Guinea, Djibouti, Liberia, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Haiti, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), as well as the United States.
In Laayoune, the largest city in the southern province, there are diplomatic missions from Jordan, Comoros, Gabon, Sao Tome and Principe, the Central African Republic, Ivory Coast, Burundi, Eswatini, Zambia, the UAE, and Bahrain.
Last March, Suriname announced its intention to open a consulate general in Dakhla, as well as inaugurating an embassy in Rabat, with a view to boosting bilateral cooperation and promoting investment and trade.
Western Sahara is a disputed and divided former Spanish colony, mostly under Morocco’s control, where tensions with the Algeria-backed Polisario Front have simmered since the 1970s.
In January, the US started the “process of establishing” a consulate in the Western Sahara, after Washington recognised Morocco’s sovereignty over the disputed territory.
Western Sahara’s economy is run by Morocco, which has built most of the territory’s infrastructure.