WASHINGTON (AP) – The State Department said on Thursday that the United States would open a consulate in Western Sahara after President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Morocco’s sovereignty over the disputed territory.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement that the process to open the facility has begun. In this process personnel are hired before finding and acquiring a suitable asset for a mission. It was not clear when or where it would open, but by then Pompeo said the US embassy in Rabat would operate a virtual consulate to serve Western Sahara.
Trump announced on 10 December that the US would recognize Morocco’s claim to Western Sahara as part of a deal to normalize relations with the northwestern country of Israel. The Trump administration has prioritized achieving such deals between Arab states and Israel and thus far has drawn four conclusions: United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.
Recognition of Western Sahara was a reversal of decades of US policy and the move has been heavily criticized, not by those in Western Sahara who have fought for independence and want a referendum for the future of the region. The former Spanish colony, which has a population of 350,000 to 500,000, is believed to have offshore oil deposits and mineral resources.
The US decision to recognize Morocco’s sovereignty over the Western Sahara has drawn criticism from the United Nations as well as American allies in Africa and beyond.
African observers have said that it could destabilize the wider region, already struggling against Islamic insurgents and migrant smuggling. Former US Secretary of State James Baker, who served as a UN envoy in Western Sahara, has called it “a surprising return from the principles of international law and diplomacy”.