Following Sanchez’s visit, Morocco and Spain have begun a new chapter in their relationship

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Morocco MoroccoMorocco and Spain said on Thursday that they had decided to start a new chapter in their relationship after Madrid backed Rabat’s autonomy plan for Western Sahara, putting an end to a year-long diplomatic standoff.

King Mohammed VI and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez met in Rabat and “reiterated their commitment to usher in a new chapter, based on mutual respect, mutual confidence, continuous dialogue, and candid and genuine collaboration,” according to a statement from the Royal Palace. Sanchez also reaffirmed a position he took last month, calling Morocco’s autonomy plan for Western Sahara “the most serious, realistic, and credible” basis for resolving the dispute over Western Sahara, which Morocco considers its own but where the Algeria-backed Polisario Front wants to establish its own state.

According to a joint statement from Spain and Morocco, marine transport will begin immediately. During the summer, three million Moroccans travel from Europe to Morocco, largely via Spanish ports. For the last two years, Morocco has barred Spanish ports due to COVID-19 concerns. Moroccan-Spanish relations froze after Spain admitted Polisario commander Brahim Ghali for medical treatment in April of last year without informing Rabat.

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The Polisario Front and Algeria, which is an ally of the Polisario Front, oppose the autonomy plan and want an independence vote. Moroccan officials seemed to reduce border restrictions with Ceuta, a Spanish enclave in northern Morocco, in retaliation to hosting Ghali, resulting in an inflow of at least 8,000 migrants, the most of whom were ultimately deported. In addition, the two nations agreed to restore normal passenger and cargo movement on sea and land borders. The proposal will throw a lifeline to the economies of Ceuta and Melilla, two Spanish enclaves that rely heavily on commerce with Morocco.

They also agreed to collaborate on the delineation of Atlantic sea boundaries, as well as airspace control, and to strengthen collaboration in the areas of migration, business, energy, industry, and culture. Morocco has announced that it would begin importing gas from Spanish LNG facilities this month, after reactivating a dormant pipeline. Spain’s position on Western Sahara represents a change in policy in favor of Morocco’s claim to the area. According to Sanchez, the two countries have agreed to conduct another high-level meeting before the end of the year.

Over the last decade, Morocco has become increasingly vital for Spain. Rabat is seen as crucial in the battle against radical Islamist organizations as well as in keeping a growing number of African migrants from fleeing conflict and poverty in their home countries.

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