Language matters in foreign policy


After the US elections, when President Donald Trump wanted to muddy the process and disregard the results - seeing himself defeated in his bid for a second term - a large number of countries (probably the majority) expressed their support for US democracy, publicly backed the institutionality and the electoral process in that country, with a few exceptions. Among the exceptions were Morocco, Mexico and others. 

After the Trumpist embarrassment on Capitol Hill and the subsequent inauguration of Joe Biden, even a consummate Trumpist like the Mexican head of state, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, called President Biden. Morocco, more than two months into the new US administration, has not done so, or has not done so publicly. At the end of March, President Biden invited 40 world leaders to participate in the Climate Summit to be held virtually on 22-23 April. Morocco's head of state, despite his interest in this issue and having hosted the UN Climate Change Conference in 2016 (COP22), was not among those invited, unlike other Arabs and other Africans. However, John Kerry, appointed by Joe Biden as US Special Climate Envoy, held a telephone interview with Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita also at the end of March. Kerry affirmed that Morocco is a great partner in the global fight against climate change and that he himself experienced Mohammed VI's commitment when Morocco hosted COP22. The US official stressed that the two countries hope to deepen their partnership in this field during the COP26 or Climate Summit, to be held in Glasgow in November this year.

It is worth remembering that a few days after leaving the White House, Donald Trump recognised the Moroccan sovereignty of Western Sahara, announced millions of dollars in investments for the region and, in the same context, Morocco and Israel normalised relations. The leaders of Morocco and the United States then paid tribute to each other and extolled the friendship between the two countries. Joe Biden has not reversed Donald Trump's decision, but neither has he publicly welcomed US recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed territory. Indeed, some analysts believe that even if President Biden does not reverse his predecessor's decision, he is inclined to revitalise the role of the United Nations in moving the process forward in that framework. 

Former diplomat Jamal Mechbal argues that "US recognition of the Moroccan ownership of Western Sahara is a sovereign act under international law, while the dispute - as a regional conflict - will continue to be dealt with by the Security Council. There is no contradiction between the recognition of Morocco's sovereignty over its Western Sahara and the dynamism and revitalisation that the UN process should have, considering the centrality that the autonomy proposal has taken on as a serious and credible option for a solution to the territorial dispute and without losing sight of the fact that independence for the territory is not a realistic option. The United States, unlike other countries, has shown signs of wanting an end to this issue. The advantage the US has over Europe today is that it can invest and even participate in military manoeuvres in Western Sahara without being questioned by its own institutions, as it is the case with European countries. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that the United States and Israel will land in Western Sahara in the near future in order to expand from there to the rest of Africa and counter Chinese positioning on the African continent," observes the Moroccan expert.

On the other hand, the US State Department also allows for some inferences. Please read the chapter dedicated to Morocco - in the recent report documenting the human rights situation in different countries around the world, which was published at the end of March. The State Department does not assume the language of the Trump administration and refers verbatim to both the disputed territory of Western Sahara and internationally recognised Morocco. If the US administration were convinced that Donald Trump's foreign policy decision was a wise one, why distance itself from the language and terms used? Why insist on differentiating the disputed territory from the rest of the country? 

In foreign policy, as it is well known, language matters, and the Biden administration's restraint and silence on this issue suggests that it supports and/or hopes to revitalise the search for a solution to this territorial dispute at the United Nations, and particularly at the Security Council, which deals with the dispute. Moroccan diplomacy has shown a considerable level of professionalism, which has allowed it to make significant progress and achievements over the years in foreign policy and also for its national cause. It would be unfortunate and even unbelievable if Morocco had bet all its cards on an unchallenged election victory for Donald Trump. Is Morocco expecting a clear position from Joe Biden on the Sahara issue, as suggested by EFE's correspondent in Rabat, and is Joe Biden waiting for a call from Morocco's head of state, as befits a strategic partner and ally, considering the good relations that Joe Biden has had with Morocco in the recent past?

Meanwhile, the communist dictatorship in Havana juggles and approaches Rabat, now it wants to do business, albeit taking care of its historic strategic partnership with Algiers, which represents 65 million euros a year in medical missions alone. Cuba and Morocco re-established relations in 2017, after almost four decades of rupture due to the Castro regime's recognition of the virtual republic erected in Algeria by the subversive movement that claims the territory of Western Sahara. This recognition allowed Cuba to forge solid relations with the Polisario Front, under the auspices of Algiers, promoting the movement in Latin America and in multilateral bodies when it was profitable to mobilise Third World countries to justify excesses, eccentricities, extravagances and absurdities. Would the Castro regime have survived without these partners and friends who have come to its aid for decades? It remains to be seen whether Morocco and Cuba will ever make important transactions and business deals with political overtones, but beyond the enthusiasm displayed by some Moroccans, it should not be underestimated that Algeria is a key player for the Havana regime that Cuba does not seem willing to do without. 

*Clara Riveros is a political scientist, political analyst and consultant on issues related to Latin America and Morocco. Author of the books Diálogo transatlántico entre Marruecos e Iberoamérica ('Transatlantic Dialogue between Morocco and Ibero-America') and Diálogos transatlánticos ('Transatlantic Dialogues), Marruecos hoy  Director of the CPLATAM platform, which promotes liberal ideas and monitors the political situation in Latin American and Maghreb countries.