US unveils plan to open consulate in Dakhla

US Assistant Secretary of State hails strong US-Moroccan ties as his trip to southern region seeks to cement Washington’s commitment to Morocco’s sovereignty over its Sahara.

DAKHLA - US Assistant Secretary of State David Schenker unveiled on Sunday the plan to open a consulate in Morocco’s southern coastal city of Dakhla a month after US President Donald Trump said Washington would recognise Morocco's claim over the Western Sahara region.

On December 10, Trump said that Morocco had been the first country to recognize the United States as an independent nation just a year after the US declared its independence from Britain in 1776.

“It is the US fitting we recognize their sovereignty over the Western Sahara,” Trump tweeted.

Trump said the aim of the consulate would be “to promote economic and trade opportunities in the region.”

The US State Department said on Thursday that the US would continue to support political negotiations to resolve the issues between Morocco and the Polisario Front within the framework of Morocco’s autonomy plan.

US Secretary of State tweeted on Thursday that “we look forward to promoting economic and social development, and to engage the people of this region.”

Schenker's trip to Morocco sought to cement Washington’s commitment to Morocco’s sovereignty over its Sahara before Trump leaves office on January 20.

“The US-Morocco relationship is as strong as ever and the best years are yet to come,” said Schenker during a joint press conference with Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita.

He praised King Mohammed VI’s leadership in promoting a bold and far-reaching reform program over the past two decades.

He also highlighted Morocco's efforts to promote religious tolerance and harmony" which he said are an example in the region, citing in particular "its historic tradition of protecting its Jewish community" as well as the signing of the Marrakesh Declaration on the Rights of Religious Minorities in the Islamic World.

The American official launched the "Dakhla Connect" portal, a platform that seeks to encourage investment in the region.

The US is going to open an investment office to finance projects with a sum of around 3 billion dollars.

US ambassador to Morocco David Fischer said that the trip to Dakhla was another historic milestone in more than 200 years of friendship between Morocco and the US.

“Opening a consulate will allow the United States to take further advantage of Morocco’s strategic positioning as a hub for trade in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. Specifically, it will support and encourage investment and development projects that bring tangible benefits for the region,” said Fischer.

During his visit to Algeria on Thursday, Schenker said that US “has always and continues to believe that only political negotiations are capable of resolving the issues between Morocco and the Polisario.”

“Those negotiations should occur within the context of the autonomy plan,” Schenker told the Algerian press.

“I have to say that the status quo in the Western Sahara has not worked. It has benefitted no one. What the administration has done is that it has made a move toward a more serious, a more realistic and a more credible solution to the conflict in the Western Sahara,” he added.

“So finding that solution I think requires bold, creative and unorthodox approaches to the problem and that is what the administration did,” he concluded.