- The former Moroccan Interior Minister, Driss Basri, in a rare interview has revealed Morocco's double-faced positions during the decades of negotiation over Western Sahara. Now, he however is pessimistic and believes that "the solution to the issue of Sahara will not be but an American solution."
Ex-Minister Basri, who was representing Morocco in many negotiations over Western Sahara's future during the regime of late King Hassan II, has given an open-hearted interview to the Moroccan weekly 'Al-Ayam'. (Khatry Beirouk has translated extracts from the original Arabic text.)
In the interview with 'Al-Ayam', Mr Basri has to defend his seemingly contradictory policies on Morocco's occupation of Western Sahara. The ex-Minister had told Moroccans, "the southern provinces" (Western Sahara, as it is termed in Morocco) were an integrated part of the country and Morocco's "territorial integrity was a sacred matter". On the other hand, Morocco had ceded the southern part of the territory to Mauritania in 1976 and had agreed to a UN-led referendum over independence for the Sahrawis.
Mr Basri told 'Al-Ayam' that ex-colonial power Spain and neighbouring Algeria were building "a coalition between them" to counter Moroccan interests. "The late Hassan II didn't have other choice but to play the Mauritanian card and prevent the Algerians from using it," said Mr Basri. "Indeed, that's how Mauritania became in control of the southern part of Sahara," he added.
- In 1981, in Nairobi, Morocco accepted the referendum and this decision constituted a surprising change, 'Al-Ayam' confronted the ex-Minister. This further led to a UN-supervised ceasefire from 1991 and UN preparations for a never-accomplished referendum among Sahrawis on whether to form an independent state or become Moroccans.
Mr Basri defends this U-bend of Moroccan diplomacy by the limited weight of his country. "Hassan II, at the diplomatic level, was not close-minded," he told 'Al-Ayam'. "As to say: 'the Sahara is Moroccan and let whoever say whatever it wants.' This attitude can be taken by the United States, as it did in Iraq. However, Morocco can not afford to do it."
He however assured the 'Al-Ayam' journalists that neither he nor the King ever had been in favour of the referendum. "I was for the referendum only in a tactical way. But, even if the referendum had taken place, we would have won it," he explained. Late King Hassan II further had told him: "Do you think we are devoid of common sense? We would not embark in a referendum if we are not sure we would win it?"
For Mr Basri, the real turning point however was the 1997 Houston (Texas) agreement between Morocco and Polisario (the Sahrawi independence movement), which he deems as the beginning of an American domination in the Western Sahara negotiations.
A pro-Moroccan solution to the conflict had been possible before US "took the dossier," Mr Basri tol 'Al-Ayam'. "Nowadays, the solution to the issue of Sahara will not be but an American solution," he adds.
- Through a referendum or without a referendum, they have offered us the 'Framework Agreement', Mr Basri says. ""We will not be able to administer this 'Framework Agreement' because it will take us to the independence."
'Al-Ayam' finally asked the ex-Minister: "Then, do you believe the intentions of The United States are to separate Sahara from Morocco?"
Mr Basri answers: "Certainly. I have said this to the Americans and the late Hassan II was aware of this and he confronted it with his diplomatic masterity. However today, we see politicians applaud to the 'Framework Agreement' and I wonder, do they really know how to read or not?"
The so-called "Framework Agreement" has been seen as a threat to Sahrawi ambitions of gaining independence as it would cede the territory temporarily to Morocco as an autnomous province. Also, most analysts have held that the UN's Sahara broker, James Baker III - who is a Texan ex-US Secretary of State - is markedly pro-Moroccan. Mr Basri's conclusions are therefore seen as rather controversial.
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