Spain, Morocco seek reset of testy relationship at Rabat summit
Spain and Morocco have agreed to set aside their differences, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Thursday, as they seek to repair a relationship marked by frequent disputes over migration and territory.
Sanchez was speaking at a summit in Rabat where the two countries signed as many as 20 agreements to boost trade and investment, including credit lines of up to 800 million euros ($873 million).
“We have agreed on a commitment to mutual respect, whereby in our discourse and in our political practice we will avoid everything that we know offends the other party, especially regarding our respective spheres of sovereignty,” Sanchez said.
There have been regular diplomatic crises over Spain’s enclaves in Africa, Morocco’s dispute with rebels over the Western Sahara, and the arrival of thousands of illegal migrants in Spain each year through Morocco.
Morocco refuses to recognize Spanish sovereignty over Ceuta and Melilla, but last year the two countries agreed to open the first customs control points between the two.
Madrid says that reflects Rabat’s recognition of the enclaves as foreign territory, but Morocco has not confirmed the development and has given no public statement indicating that its long-held stance that the enclaves should be part of its territory has changed.
Sanchez restored cordial relations with Rabat in March 2022 after he reversed former colonial master Spain’s four-decade policy on the Western Sahara by backing Morocco’s proposal to create an autonomous region.
Forging peace between the neighbors has forced Sanchez’s Socialists into some uncomfortable positions.
Last month, its MEPs voted against a resolution in the European Parliament to call on Morocco to improve its record on press freedom. MEP Juan Fernando Lopez said this week that maintaining cordial neighborly relations sometimes involved “swallowing a toad.”
Spain’s about-turn on Western Sahara drew the ire of Algeria, a Polisario Front ally, which suspended trade with Spain and warned it could cut the flow of natural gas even as it forges closer gas ties with Italy.
In Rabat on Thursday, Moroccan Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch expressed satisfaction at Spain’s support for Morocco’s autonomy plan as the “most credible solution” to resolve the Western Sahara dispute, but did not reference an agreement to set aside all sovereignty disputes.