US Takes Steps to Support Disgruntled Allies on Visit to North Africa | News
With the focus on strained relations between the United States and its Gulf allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, it has been easy to forget that dissatisfaction with the Biden administration s has also spread to North Africa.
Algeria remains deeply concerned by President Joe Biden’s refusal to rescind his predecessor Donald Trump’s recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over disputed Western Sahara. Likewise, Morocco was frustrated that Biden had no intention of going beyond Trump’s “recognition”.
The new clash between neighbors over Western Sahara led to the breakdown of diplomatic relations last August, as well as an escalation in border disputes, which followed an alleged drone attack in Algeria that killed three civilians and was blamed in Morocco.
Amid rising tensions and frustration, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken included Morocco, where he arrived on Monday, and Algeria, where he is due on Wednesday, in his Middle East tour and in North Africa.
Divisions over Western Sahara
Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony largely controlled by Morocco since 1979, has long been a sore spot in Algerian-Moroccan relations, with Algeria backing Western Sahara’s independence movement, the Polisario Front.
Trump’s recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed territory, at the same time Morocco agreed to normalize relations with Israel, has heightened tensions between Algeria and Morocco.
Although the Biden administration has issued no statement reversing Trump’s decision, there is a sense that Washington is eager to return to a more neutral stance in a bid to broker an Algiers-Rabat deal.
“The American position is hesitant on the question of Western Sahara despite Trump’s announcement of the recognition of Moroccan sovereignty,” Mohamed Mayaara, an activist and director of the Saharawi publication Equipe Media, told Al Jazeera.
According to Mayaara, Blinken will seek to balance the frustrations of Morocco and Algeria “in a way that does not jeopardize Rabat’s normalization with Tel Aviv, but creates new momentum in the Western Sahara issue without alienating the Algeria, and by extension the Polisario movement”. .
This point of view is not shared by all.
“Blinken’s visit will reaffirm the diplomatic gains made by Morocco on the Western Sahara issue,” said Moroccan journalist Mohamed Salem Abdel-Fattah.
Spain’s withdrawal of its support for a referendum in Western Sahara on its sovereignty was a major blow for Morocco. Instead, the Spanish government announced on March 18 that it supported Rabat’s proposal to grant autonomous status to Western Sahara, but that it remain under Moroccan control.
Abdel-Fattah expected Rabat to pressure Blinken to build on Trump’s recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed territories and Spain’s new position, by “once again proposing more the idea of granting autonomy to the region as a viable solution within the framework of American foreign policy”. and the efforts of the United Nations”.
Alternatives to Russian Gas
Europe’s overreliance on Russian gas and the limits imposed on Europe following the invasion of Ukraine are also on the agenda. The United States has already sought to encourage Middle Eastern countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, to increase their oil and gas exports, and Blinken’s visit to Algiers, in particular, is likely motivated by similar goals.
“The reason for [Blinken’s] visit is to quickly convince Algeria to become an alternative gas supplier to Russia, and thus reduce Europe’s dependence on Moscow for its energy needs,” Idris Attiya told Al Jazeera, professor of international relations and political science at the University of Algiers.
Algeria is already Europe’s third gas supplier, accounting for 11% of Europe’s gas imports. While national oil and gas company Sonatrach has said it is willing to increase supplies to Europe, questions are being raised about whether Algeria has the capacity to increase production.
Moreover, production capacity is not the only problem, as Algeria has found itself trying to maintain a balance between Russia and the United States.
“Although Algeria has repeatedly insisted that it is a neutral party in the war against Ukraine, and has even offered to mediate between the two sides, there is a feeling in Washington that Algeria is traditionally closer to Moscow than to the United States,” says Attiya. “The other dynamic of visiting Blinken is [therefore] to try to distance Algeria from Russia.
Even though Morocco is not a major supplier of oil and gas, raw materials are an important part of Blinken’s journey to Rabat.
Morocco has been a vital conduit for bringing Algerian gas through pipelines that run through Morocco and Spain. After the suspension of diplomatic relations between Algeria and Morocco, Algiers decided not to renew the agreement for the use of Maghreb-Europe gas pipelines in November, forcing Spain to import only Algerian gas through a gas pipeline. direct, and ultimately reducing the amount of Algerian gas circulating in Europe.
“Blinken will seek to reconcile the two neighbors, [at least to the extent] whereby Algeria decides to restore delivery through Morocco’s pipelines,” Abdel-Fattah said.
Abdel-Fattah also believes that Blinken will discuss with his Moroccan counterparts the possibility of a political agreement between the factions in Libya, in the hope of “achieving stability” in the Libyan energy sector.
Oil production in Libya fell significantly as individual factions continued to jostle for power after a failed election in December.
Morocco hosted the UN-backed dialogue that culminated in the Skhirat Accord in 2015, which led to Libya’s government of national unity. The hope is that a similar process can be replicated in or with the help of Rabat, with the aim of brokering a new political agreement.