afrol News, 28 January - Moroccan Foreign Minister Mohamed Benaissa and his Spanish counterpart, Ana Palacio, are expected to announce the re-opening of their Rabat and Madrid embassies, which have remained empty since the conflict over the uninhabited Parsley Island last year.
Everything seems to indicate that the meeting next Thursday between the Foreign Ministers of Spain and Morocco will achieve an end to the diplomatic crisis between the two neighbours. The much announced - but yet to be realised - "total reestablishment" of diplomatic ties between the two Kingdoms awaits the symbolic re-installation of ambassadors at the empty Rabat and Madrid embassies.
In spite of the optimism that both diplomatic delegations demonstrated during the hectic diplomacy between Mr Benaissa and Ms Palacio during the last weeks, the non-return of the missing ambassadors has been a visible sign of a failure to solve the long list of conflict issues between Morocco and Spain. The Thursday meeting between the two chief diplomats in Rabat is expected to put an end to this situation, however, observers in both countries say.
Ms Palacio, during her stay in at the Brussels meeting of EU Foreign Ministers yesterday, announced that she was confident "that the Moroccan Ambassador in Madrid and the Spanish Ambassador in Rabat very soon will return to their respective posts." She however did not mention a date. The Spanish Minister further emphasised that there was a will on both side to, not only repair the bilateral relations, but even "lift them to a higher level."
Only hours after these declarations, today Spanish diplomatic sources disclosed that the ambassadors were to return "immediately", indicating that the date of their return was expected to be within the first days of February. This, it was said, would be announced during the upcoming Thursday meeting between Ms Palacio and Mr Benaissa.
The Moroccan Ambassador to Spain, Abdesalam Baraka, left his position in Madrid in October 2001, being "called to Rabat for consultations with the Moroccan King", according to the official version. The Moroccan government has explained his delayed return by, among several reasons, by troubled relations with Spain due to an offensive campaign against Morocco by the Spanish press, and the "poor signals demonstrated by the Spanish government to put an end to this."
Additional strains to the Moroccan-Spanish relationship arise from the large influx of illegal immigrants arriving Spain from the Moroccan coast, the Spanish government's and people's support for the independence fight of Western Sahara (occupied by Morocco), along with long-standing fisheries problems and several unresolved territorial claims by both parties.
Morocco lays claim on the two Spanish exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla on the northern Moroccan coast, in addition to several small, uninhabited islands off its coast. These have been under Spanish control since the 16th century, and Madrid is reluctant to discuss the matter. Morocco also is unclear on its acceptance of the Spanish property of the Canary Islands, and demands sovereignty over the water between Morocco and the archipelago. Spanish oil exploration off the Canary coast last year was described "an unfriendly act" by the Moroccan government.
The dialogue between the two neighbours completely broke down last year after the fight over Parsley Island (named Leila in Morocco, Perejil in Spain). Morocco placed troops on the uninhabited rock closely off its shores, which soon were ousted by Spanish troops. Spain recalled its Rabat Ambassador on that occasion. Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar still has a photo of his troops waiving a Spanish banner on his desk.