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Morocco’s spat with Algeria might affect U.S. visit

Moroccan King Mohammed VI, left, in Dakar, Senegal, in March. Photo by Seyllou Diallo/AFP/Getty Images

When King Mohammed VI of Morocco visits the White House on Friday, President Barack Obama plans to speak to him about democratic reforms in the North African nation and other regional issues such as extremism and economic development.

But a longstanding issue involving Morocco’s disputed southern territory, Western Sahara, might come up in light of Morocco’s recent diplomatic rows with Algeria. Algeria supports Western Sahara’s independence movement and houses refugees connected to the fight. Morocco temporarily recalled its ambassador from Algeria last month after the Algerian president called for human rights monitoring in Western Sahara.
A U.N.-brokered ceasefire agreement between Morocco and Western Sahara in 1991 directed a referendum for self-determination in Western Sahara which has yet to take place.

The United States is concerned about al-Qaida-affiliated groups expanding in the Sahara, and a breakdown of cooperation in the region might encourage such expansion.

Updated at 4:50 p.m. EST | After the two leaders met, the White House issued the following statement about the Western Sahara issue:

“The president pledged to continue to support efforts to find a peaceful, sustainable, mutually agreed-upon solution to the Western Sahara question. U.S. policy toward the Western Sahara has remained consistent for many years. The United States has made clear that Morocco’s autonomy plan is serious, realistic, and credible, and that it represents a potential approach that could satisfy the aspirations of the people in the Western Sahara to run their own affairs in peace and dignity. We continue to support the negotiations carried out by the United Nations, including the work of the U.N. Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy Ambassador Christopher Ross, and urge the parties to work toward a resolution. The two leaders affirmed their shared commitment to the improvement of the lives of the people of the Western Sahara and agreed to work together to continue to protect and promote human rights in the territory.”

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