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U.S.-Morocco crisis: Major exercise canceled over W. Sahara

Special to WorldTribune.com

CAIRO — Morocco and the United States have been plunged into a
crisis that led to the cancellation of a major military exercise.

Diplomats said Rabat and Washington underwent a sharp decline in
diplomatic and military relations when the United States supported a
Security Council effort to expand the authority of a UN force in the
disputed Western Sahara.
_49851637_western_sahara_bern_304They said the decision by President Barack Obama sparked a Moroccan decision to cancel African Lion-2013, deemed a major exercise in North Africa.

“This was seen as a harsh blow by Washington, and it threatens relations
with Morocco,” a diplomat in the region said.

The diplomats said the U.S. initiative marked the latest in a series of
moves by the Obama administration that angered Rabat. They cited statements by the administration over the last few years that sought to undermine Morocco’s control of Western Sahara, 80 percent of which is under Rabat’s rule.

Morocco canceled African Lion on April 16, a day before the start of the
exercise. Officials said the U.S. military sent 1,400 personnel for the
exercise, also meant to include observers from France and Germany.

Officials said the U.S. military has begun to withdraw troops and
equipment from Morocco, including aircraft, artillery and combat vehicles.
They said Morocco has not offered to reschedule African Lion.

Morocco’s cancellation of African Lion took place hours after Rabat
condemned a U.S. proposal to expand the mission of the UN observer mission
in Western Sahara, known as MINURSO. The U.S. proposal would enable MINURSO,
with 210 personnel, to monitor human rights by Morocco in Western Sahara.

“It is an attack on the national sovereignty of Morocco and will have
negative consequences on the stability of the whole region,” Moroccan
government spokesman Mustapha Khalfi said. “We
count on the wisdom of the members of the Security Council to avoid such
initiatives.”

Diplomats said the U.S. initiative, expected to be discussed in the
Security Council in late April, could harm Morocco’s relations with
Washington over the medium term. They said the kingdom was expected to
reduce its support for U.S. initiatives in the region, particularly in
neighboring Libya.

“It is safe to say that Morocco will reconsider diplomatic relations,
including support for Washington in the United Nations,” the diplomat said.

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