afrol News, 22 April - Moroccan King Mohammed VI yesterday evening arrived in the US capital for a work visit, where he is to confer with President George W. Bush and meet with meet senior governmental officials and other political and economic prominents. While political issues are expected to dominate the King's talks, he is also to discuss economic developments and ties.
According to the Moroccan news agency MAP, The Palestinian cause and the Arab-Israeli conflict in general will be among the priority topics to be discussed by President Bush and King Mohammed VI on Tuesday. Also talks about the fight against terrorism and the Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara were anticipated.
The King today met with US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, according to a release from the Moroccan Royal Office. Meeting the US government's hardliner, he had "renewed Morocco's readiness to establish a deep strategic dialogue with the USA on issues of defence, security and struggle against terrorism."
Later on the day, the King received Andre Natsios, Administrator of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), at his residence in the US capital. The USAID Administrator also met with several Moroccan ministers and the strong development, finance and military links between the US and Morocco were discussed. Morocco has received large-scale US support in the 1970s and 1980s, which have however been somewhat cut back in the 1990s. The US however still contributes significant military aid to Morocco.
The delicate issue of Western Sahara is expected to be brought up in the King's talks with the US President. Although Washington generally has been indifferent to Morocco's occupation of the territory, the improved US-Algerian relationship (Algeria is seen now as an important anti-terrorism co-operator) has somewhat tilted US-Moroccan ties. Algeria gives a high profiled support to the Sahrawi independence movement, POLISARIO.
Sahrawi activists and supporters have not missed this chance to profile their struggle. In a letter to the American President, Suzanne Scholte and Carlos Wilson of the US-Western Sahara Foundation urged him to tell the King: "Referendum now or withdraw from the Western Sahara." Morocco's occupation was "thwarting the development of a Muslim democracy in North Africa. The Sahrawi Republic is founded on the principles of democracy with a constitution based on the American constitution," the letter said.
The Moroccan King is well-seen in Washington, both for his country's historic alliance with the US and his personal efforts to modernise and democratise northern Africa's poorest country. His very strong engagement in support of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat under the current Middle-East crisis has been noted in Washington. His Algerian counterpart, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, has kept a notably lower profile.
Sources: Based on US Western Sahara Found., press reports and afrol archives.