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Blink in Morocco for security talks to meet UAE leader

The trip comes in the shadow of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which, along with sanctions, has sent wheat and fuel prices skyrocketing in a severe blow to import-dependent North African countries.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) shakes hands with Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita (R) during their meeting in the capital Rabat on March 29, 2022.Picture: Jacquelyn Martin / POOL / AFP

DISCOUNT – US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Morocco on Tuesday to discuss regional security and meet with the United Arab Emirates’ de facto leader Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan.

The trip comes in the shadow of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which, along with sanctions, has sent wheat and fuel prices skyrocketing in a severe blow to import-dependent North African countries.

“We know that this pain is felt strongly in the Middle East and North Africa, where most countries import at least half of their wheat,” Foreign Ministry Deputy Secretary Yael Lempert said before the trip.

Blinken flew in late Monday from Israel, where he had joined top diplomats from the UAE, Morocco, Bahrain and Egypt for a meeting that underscored a seismic shift since 2020 in relations between Arab countries and the Jewish state.

On Tuesday, he began talks with Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita ahead of a meeting with Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch, with Western Sahara conflict and security cooperation on the agenda – including the fight against Islamic State and Al Qaeda in the Sahel.

The same topics will emerge in meetings the following day with Morocco’s regional rival Algeria.

Blinken will also meet on Tuesday night with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed – often referred to as “MBZ” – at the Emirati leader’s Moroccan residence, a meeting to come as Washington cautiously looks at longtime UAE allies deviating from many of its policies.

The UAE has refrained from criticizing Russia, recently sent its top diplomat to Moscow and hosted Russia-backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Blinken and Prince Mohammed will discuss efforts to revive the 2015 landmark Iran nuclear deal, which aimed to curb Iran’s nuclear development in return for easing sanctions – a deal that former US President Donald Trump dropped in 2018.

Their meeting also comes amid an escalation of cross-border missile and drone strikes by Yemen’s Iran-backed Huthi rebels against the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, allies in a fierce war that has left the poor nation desolate.

Blinken will also meet a group of Moroccan women involved in science and technology.

VESTSAHARA

In Morocco, Blinken will discuss Western Sahara, a phosphate-rich former Spanish colony with a large Atlantic coast, home to rich fishing.

Morocco controls 80 percent of it, including a key highway to West Africa, while the rest – a desert area bordering Mauritania and Algeria – is run by the Polisario Front’s independence movement.

In 2020, Trump recognized the region as sovereign Moroccan territory in a break with decades of US policy, after Rabat agreed to re-establish relations with Israel under the so-called Abraham agreements.

President Joe Biden’s administration has been tight-lipped about how it will follow up on the move, which came weeks after Polisario declared a 1991 ceasefire invalid, sparking fears the long-frozen conflict could flare up again.

Morocco has called on the United States to take a step further and open a consulate there, like the UAE – a step that the Biden administration has not committed to.

The Foreign Ministry said in a report on Monday that it supports a Moroccan autonomy plan and the work of the newly appointed UN envoy Staffan de Mistura.

The UN sees the territory as a “non-autonomous territory”.

Blinken’s visit to Rabat also comes as the United States seeks stronger support for Ukraine from a region where many countries have been reluctant to criticize Moscow.

They include Morocco, which has refused to condemn Russia at the UN, frustrating both Washington and European capitals.

The Emirates is a long-standing US ally, but “MBZ” has steered a more confident foreign policy course, forged closer ties with China and intervened in the Libyan conflict on the side also supported by Kremlin-affiliated mercenaries.

Asked about Washington’s ties to the UAE, a senior U.S. official replied dryly that the two sides would talk about “the next phase of the relationship and how we can take it further.”



Blink in Morocco for security talks to meet UAE leader

Source link Blink in Morocco for security talks to meet UAE leader

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