US-Morocco Strategic Partnership: Two Centuries of Unwavering Friendship

Edward M. Gabriel (Ambassador to Morocco, 1997-2001)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Gabriel’s December 21, 2013 special to Middle East Online.

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At their November 22 meeting in the White House, held against the backdrop of nuclear talks with Iran and the ongoing civil war in Syria, President Obama and Morocco’s King Mohammed VI took full advantage to enhance the strategic alliance between the US and a critical American ally and longtime friend in the Middle East/North Africa region.

In the joint statement issued after the meeting, the two leaders “stressed that this important visit provides an opportunity to map out a new and ambitious plan for the strategic partnership,” and they “pledged to advance our shared priorities of a secure, stable, and prosperous Maghreb, Africa, and Middle East.”

This is no small thing in a region marked by instability, anti-Americanism, and struggling democratic institutions — from Egypt and Libya to Tunisia and Algeria. Clearly, both the President and the King recognized the importance of our shared values, common interests, and two-centuries-old, mutually beneficial friendship in addressing critical issues that threaten peace and security.

President Obama acknowledged in the joint statement that Morocco stands out as model of stability and progress. The President “commended the action and the leadership of His Majesty the King in deepening democracy and promoting economic progress and human development during the past decade.”

The President and King Mohammed reaffirmed their commitment to work together to realize the promise of Morocco’s 2011 progressive constitution and explore ways in which the United States can help strengthen Morocco’s democratic institutions, civil society, and efforts towards inclusive governance.

The allies noted their shared commitment to deal with key global issues, including the fight against terrorism, the protection of human rights, and regional security in North Africa and the Middle East. To confront these challenges, they announced their intention to join together on initiatives regarding food security, human and economic development, and access to energy in Africa, a continent where Morocco has strong friendships and religious and cultural ties, and where it has been working to share its economic and technical experience to promote human development.

Most importantly, the joint statement recognized that resolving the decades-old Western Sahara conflict is crucial for security in the Sahara-Sahel. It confirmed that the “US policy toward the Western Sahara has remained consistent for many years,” since it was first adopted by President Clinton when it called for a solution that grants autonomy for the residents of the Sahara under Moroccan sovereignty. “The United States has made clear that Morocco’s autonomy plan is serious, realistic, and credible, and that it represents a potential approach that could satisfy the aspirations of the people in the Western Sahara to run their own affairs in peace and dignity.”

The two leaders went further, affirming their “shared commitment to the improvement of the lives of the people of the Western Sahara.” This reflects a US decision to support programs and policies that will advance the economic, social, and cultural needs in the Western Sahara, a broader approach to resolving the conflict that is the fundamental issue in finding stability and security in North Africa.

More than two hundred years ago, in 1789, thanking Morocco’s Sultan Mohammed III for protecting American ships from Barbary pirates, George Washington wrote, “We flatter ourselves that one day we will be useful to our friends.” The joint statement of November 22nd confirms this unbroken commitment and strategic importance between the United States and Morocco.

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