US honours Moroccan king with Legion of Merit

Also on Friday, Trump received Morocco’s highest award for his work in advancing peace in the Middle East, a senior administration official said.
Saturday 16/01/2021
A combination picture of US President Donald Trump and Morocco’s King Mohammed VI. (AFP/ REUTERS)

WASHINGTON – In a last-minute push to solidify Morocco’s relations with Washington, US President Donald Trump bestowed on Friday a rare award on King Mohammed VI for his “positive impact” on the political scene in the Middle East.

The White House said it presented the Moroccan king with the Legion of Merit, degree of Chief Commander, five days before Trump’s departure in a private ceremony in Washington.

King Mohammed VI was not in Washington to accept the award. Morocco’s ambassador to the US, Princess Lalla Joumala Alaoui, accepted it on his behalf in a private ceremony, according to a White House statement.

“His vision and personal courage — including his decision to resume ties with the State of Israel — have positively reshaped the landscape of the Middle East and North Africa and ushered in a new era of security and prosperity for both our countries and the world,” a White House statement said.

The Legion of Merit is a rarely awarded decoration that can only be bestowed by the president, and typically on heads of state or government of other countries.

Washington’s honour comes after the United States in December recognised Morocco’s sovereignty over the entire Western Sahara territory, including disputed area between southern Morocco and Mauritania. Morocco, in turn, agreed to resume partial diplomatic ties with Israel in the near future, establish direct flights between the nations, and promote economic and technological cooperation.

Also on Friday, Trump received Morocco’s highest award for his work in advancing peace in the Middle East, a senior administration official said.

During the private Oval Office ceremony, Morocco’s ambassador to the US gave Trump the Order of Muhammad, an award given only to heads of state. It was awarded by Morocco’s King Mohammed VI.

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and Middle East envoy Avi Berkowitz received other awards for their work on the Israel-Morocco deal, which was reached in December.

Meanwhile, the State Department’s top official on the Middle East, David Schenker, joined on Friday Morocco in a virtual conference on Western Sahara that highlighted Trump’s position.

Forty nations participated with 27 at the ministerial level, a joint statement said.

“Participants committed to continue their advocacy for a solution, using Morocco’s autonomy plan as the sole framework for resolving the Western Sahara dispute,” it said.

The countries taking part included Arab allies of Morocco and smaller developing nations but also France, Morocco’s foreign ministry said.

Rabat controls 80% of the Western Sahara, including its phosphate deposits and fishing waters. International court documents point to historical testimonies of regional tribes’ allegiance to the Moroccan monarchy.

The Algeria-backed Polisario Front, which fought a war for independence from 1975 to 1991, demands a referendum on self-determination.

Morocco, which maintains that Western Sahara is an integral part of the kingdom, has offered autonomy but insists it will retain sovereignty.