Algeria Rejects Trump’s Stance on Western Sahara

ALGIERS (Reuters) -
A bus station in Laayoune, the largest city of the disputed territory of Western Sahara, with a population of 217,732 in 2014, and de facto administered by Morocco. (Anass Sedrati)

Algeria has rejected a decision by President Donald Trump to recognize Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, saying the step would undermine efforts to end the decades-long conflict over the desert territory.

Trump’s administration said it was recognizing Moroccan claims to Western Sahara as part of a deal under which Morocco agreed to normalize its relations with Israel.

In Algiers, the Foreign Ministry said the U.S. decision “has no legal effect because it contradicts U.N. resolutions, especially U.N. Security Council resolutions on Western Sahara.”

“The proclamation would undermine the de-escalation efforts made at all levels in order to pave the way for launching a real political process,” the ministry said in a statement.

The U.S.-Morocco deal comes at a key moment in the long-frozen conflict in Western Sahara between Morocco and the Algeria-backed Polisario Front independence movement, which erupted again last month after three decades of truce.

The United Nations and other Western states are not expected to change their long-standing position calling for a referendum to resolve the dispute. The United Nations said its stance was unchanged.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration moved forward with $1 billion in sales of drones and precision-guided weapons to Morocco on Friday, sending a notice to Congress about the potential deals, according to sources familiar with the notification.

The deal includes four MQ-9B SeaGuardian drones made by privately-held General Atomics, and Hellfire, Paveway and JDAM precision-guided munitions made by Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Boeing, the sources said.

Reuters was first to report on Thursday that Washington was negotiating the sale and would notify Congress shortly.

News of the deal came as the White House announced an agreement brokered with U.S. help for Morocco to normalize relations with Israel.

Earlier this year the U.S. offered stealthy F-35 jet fighters to the United Arab Emirates in a side deal to the U.S.-brokered agreement between the United Arab Emirates and Israel to normalize relations.

Congress is notified about major international weapons deals and given the opportunity to review them before they go through. Under U.S. weapons export law, members of Congress can attempt to block such sales by offering resolutions of disapproval, but sources said that was not expected in this case.

A deal with Morocco would be among the first drone sales after the Trump administration moved ahead with a plan to sell more drones to more countries by reinterpreting an international arms control agreement called the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).

This fall drone sales moved ahead to Taiwan and the United Arab Emirates. An effort to block the UAE sale failed in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday.