Algeria recalls Spain envoy after Madrid backs Moroccan autonomy plan for Western Sahara

People greet Sahrawi soldiers during the visit of the UN envoy to Western Sahara, January 15, 2022. (Photo by Reuters)

Algeria has recalled its ambassador from Madrid in protest at Spain’s decision to back a Moroccan autonomy plan for Western Sahara.

“The Algerian authorities were very surprised by the surprising statements of the highest authorities in Spain on the issue of Western Sahara," the Algerian foreign affairs ministry said in a statement on Saturday.

The statement condemned the “abrupt about-turn” by Madrid, which had previously maintained neutrality in the decades-old conflict for the territory between Morocco and the Polisario Front independence movement.

Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares on Friday said that a 2007 proposal by Morocco to offer Western Sahara autonomy under its sovereignty was the “most serious, realistic and credible basis” to end the long-running conflict.

Morocco sees Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony with rich phosphate resources and access to lucrative Atlantic fishing waters, as an integral part of its territory.

The Algeria-backed Polisario Front movement, whose main goal is the independence of Western Sahara, also accused Spain of making a “grave error” after it changed its position.

“The position expressed by the Spanish government totally contradicts international legitimacy,” the Polisario said in a statement.

“The United Nations, the African Union, the European Union, the International Court of Justice, the European Court of Justice and all regional organizations do not recognize Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara,” it added.

Spain's change of position came after the United States earlier this month reiterated its support for Morocco’s plan for autonomy in the Western Sahara.

“We continue to view Morocco’s autonomy plan as serious, credible and realistic,” US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said during a visit to Rabat.

Algeria broke off diplomatic ties with Morocco on August 24, accusing it of “hostile actions” after months of heightened tensions between the two North African countries.

In late 2020, the administration of former US President Donald Trump recognized Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara as a quid pro quo for the kingdom mending ties with Israel. The deal sparked renewed tensions with Algeria.

The Biden administration has not reversed Trump’s decision.

Israel's minister of military affairs Benny Gantz made an official visit to Rabat last November and the two sides signed several security and military cooperation agreements, including for the purchase of the Iron Dome missile system.

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