Morocco, Spain renew ties after Madrid changes Western Sahara stance
'Spanish authorities have always backed Morocco in recent years, but discreetly'
Spain announced Friday a "new stage" in its tense ties with Morocco after Madrid changed its position and backed Rabat's autonomy plan for the disputed Western Sahara territory.
Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares said Rabat's 2007 proposal to offer Western Sahara autonomy within Morocco was the "most serious, realistic and credible basis" to end a decades-long dispute over the vast territory.
Until now Spain has tried to appear neutral on the issue of Western Sahara, a territory which Morocco considers its own, but where an Algeria-backed independence movement - the Polisario Front - demands a sovereign state.
Albares' announcement mirrored the language of a statement from Morocco's royal palace which said Spain's prime minister told the Moroccan king that Madrid backed the autonomy plan.
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Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez would visit Morocco as part of the renewal of ties, the Spanish government said.
Albares will visit Morocco before the end of the month to prepare for this visit, it added.
Ignacio Cembrero, a Spanish journalist who is a leading expert on Morocco-Spain ties, said "Spanish authorities have always backed Morocco in recent years, but discreetly."
The Polisario Front, which has long fought for Western Sahara's independence from Morocco, demands a referendum to resolve the conflict.
Ties between Spain and Morocco hit a low after Madrid in April 2021 allowed Western Sahara independence leader Brahim Ghali into a Spanish hospital when he was sick with Covid.
The following month, Spain was caught off guard when more than 10,000 people entered its tiny north African enclave of Ceuta as Moroccan border forces looked the other way.
Click here for an Explainer of the Western Sahara conflict.