Statement by Former Ambassador Marc Ginsberg
House Committee on Foreign Relations
April 20, 2016
Thank you for the opportunity to appear at this congressional briefing today on U.S. relations with Morocco and the status of the Western Sahara.
I served as U.S. Ambassador to Morocco from 1994-1998. During my ambassadorship, I devoted considerable time and effort with my staff to reformulate U.S. policy in the region, including the pursuit of new policy initiatives to reflect unprecedented security threats in North Africa: the growing enmity between Algeria and Morocco, Algeria’s horrific civil war, and the nascent emergence of Islamic terrorism sparked by events in Algeria.
In what subsequently became the policy blueprint for successive U.S. administrations as well as special envoy secretary James Baker, I commenced, with the full approval of then Secretary of State Christopher, two years of secret diplomacy to explore the feasibility of granting autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty for Western Sahara.
We decided this was the best course for all parties given the urgent need to resolve the humanitarian plight of the Sahrouwi people.
I received a green light from King Hassan who advised me personally of his willingness to consider recommendations from the U.S. on how to work toward a grant of limited sovereignty to the region’s inhabitants. Our goal was to work with all parties to lay the groundwork for a peaceful resolution of the situation in the Western Sahara consistent with the goal of avoiding the creation of an unstable and potentially destabilizing new nation that could never fulfill the economic and social hopes and aspirations of the region.
We conducted secret talks in Rabat, Algiers, and Tindouf with the Polisario leadership. But after a year of intense exploratory diplomacy, it became increasingly evident to me that Algeria and the Polisario were unwilling to consider anything less than full independence—a position at odds with American national security objectives. I concluded that Algeria’s motives lay less with resolving differences with Morocco, than with leveraging the conflict as a means to undermine and weaken Morocco—even if it undermined Moroccan stability and opened the door to Islamic terrorism.
Both King Hassan, and subsequently, King Mohammed embraced this concept which subsequently became the formula pursued by Special Envoy Baker. He, too, arrived at the inevitable and logical conclusion that limited sovereignty for the territory under a Moroccan flag which granted transparent and enforceable civil liberties and new political rights to the Saharoui people constituted the best outcome.
Madame chairman, may I add that without the creative and consistent diplomacy of my successor, Ambassador Edward Gabriel, Special Envoy Baker, and the U.S. Government, there never would have been a confluence of interests between the U.S. and Moroccan governments on the best approach forward. He is to be commended, along with all our successors, for removing any daylight between the U.S. and Morocco on the best course of action consistent with U.S. strategic goals and objectives in North Africa.
Let me be perfectly candid here.
I departed Rabat with full knowledge and realization that the Moroccan government was willing to pursue new formulas to break the stalemate to lay the groundwork for limited self-determination for the territory’s inhabitants.
I also came to the realization that neither Algeria nor the Polisario front, were willing to seriously consider reasonable proposals from whatever source which did not grant full independence to the region. Polisario intransigence, coupled with historical North African rivalry imbedded in Algeria’s view of the western Sahara represent the two defining impediments to a solution.
Morocco deserves and has earned the full support of the U.S. Government. It is the very trustworthy Arab ally Americans are fortunate to have in a turbulent, dangerous region. Limited sovereignty under Moroccan sovereignty constitutes a just and viable solution, particularly at a time where the expansion of ISISÂ and Al-Qaeda in North Africa should render independence the least justifiable option for American security.
Let me close by expressing my deep disappointment with the unwarranted and unhelpful interference by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. He has singularly undermined the critical role which the United Nations has heretofore played to preserve the peace. The U.S. Government should make it very clear to the secretary general that his inappropriate and untimely comments against Morocco are inconsistent with the realities on the ground. Moreover, from my vantage point, the secretary general’s observations are without foundation and provide false and misleading encouragement to a Polisario front which must be pressured to accept sooner rather than later, that the Moroccan offer of limited sovereignty is not merely the most realistic option for it; it is the only option before it.