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Spain's Pedro Sanchez visits Morocco in bid for improved diplomatic relations

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By AP  with Euronews
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez (L) is welcomed by Morocco's Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch as he arrives in Rabat.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez (L) is welcomed by Morocco's Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch as he arrives in Rabat.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Mosa'ab Elshamy

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez travelled to Morocco on a two-day visit to mark an easing of diplomatic tensions over Western Sahara.

Sánchez met with Moroccan King Mohammed VI in Rabat on Thursday for the Iftar meal to break the day’s fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Madrid calls the meeting an opportunity to open a “new stage” in ties with Morocco, based on “mutual respect”.

Relations between the two countries were severely frayed last April when Spain admitted the leader of the pro-independence movement for Western Sahara to receive medical treatment for COVID-19.

Morocco’s neighbour Algeria -- an ally of pro-independence Sahrawis -- had issued a request for Brahim Ghali to be treated at a Spanish hospital.

But the move angered Morocco, which responded by loosening its border controls around the North African enclave of Ceuta. Thousands of young African migrants were able to cross into Spanish territory unauthorised.

Last month, Sánchez took the surprising decision to alter Spain’s long-standing position on Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony.

In a letter to King Mohammed, Sánchez backed Morocco’s plan to give more autonomy to Western Sahara as long as it remains unquestionably under Moroccan control.

The Spanish PM had called Rabat’s proposal “the most serious, realistic and credible” initiative for resolving the decades-long dispute over the vast territory that Morocco had annexed in 1976.

Morocco is now seeking assurances that Spain’s support for the autonomy proposal is a strategic shift in its foreign policy.

King Mohammed said last year that his country will not sign any economic partnerships with countries that oppose Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara.

Sánchez and Spanish Foreign Minister José Albares have insisted that Spain continues to support the resolution of the Western Sahara question via a United Nations-backed referendum.

But the drive to appease Morocco has earned Sánchez sharp criticism. Political opponents accuse Sánchez of having betrayed the Sahrawi people while getting nothing tangible in return from Morocco.

The PM's ruling Socialist Party lost a parliamentary motion on Thursday on the Western Sahara proposal.

Algeria has recalled its ambassador to Spain as a sign of its continued support for the Western Sahara independence movement.

Spain, while having a relatively low dependence on natural gas imports compared to other European Union countries, receives gas from Algeria via a pipeline and tankers carrying liquified natural gas.