The move comes weeks after the administration of US President Donald Trump recognized Morocco’s claim to disputed territory.
The United States has started the process of establishing a consulate in Western Sahara, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday, just weeks after Donald Trump’s administration formally recognized Morocco’s claim disputed territory.
In a brief statement Thursday, Pompeo said he was “inaugurating a virtual presence post for Western Sahara, with a focus on promoting economic and social development, which will soon be followed by a fully operational consulate”.
A Virtual Presence Post enables U.S. officials and consular staff to conduct diplomatic engagement from a distance without maintaining a physical location in a designated city or region.
The State Department said the virtual presence post in Western Sahara would be managed by the US embassy in Rabat, the Moroccan capital.
The Trump administration on December 10 ad he recognized Morocco’s claim to Western Sahara as part of an agreement brokered by the United States which saw Morocco and Israel agree to establish formal diplomatic relations.
Morocco is the fourth country to sign a normalization agreement with Israel in recent months at the request of the United States, after the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan.
Moroccan forces and the Algerian-backed Polisario Front separatist movement have been fighting for the disputed territory – a vast border area with Morocco, Mauritania and Algeria that was previously under Spanish control – for decades.
Washington’s recognition of Morocco’s claim to the area prompted condemnation from the Polisario Front, which described it as “a flagrant violation of the United Nations charter and resolutions of international legitimacy”.
The United States was the first country in the world to recognize Morocco’s claim, William Lawrence, professor of political science and international affairs at the American University, told Al Jazeera at the time.
“It’s a huge success for Moroccan diplomatic and lobbying efforts,” he said.
The United States has said it continues to support a Moroccan proposal to grant limited autonomy to Sahrawis under overall Moroccan control.
“The United States looks forward to this increased engagement and we will continue to support political negotiations to resolve the issues between Morocco and POLISARIO under Morocco’s autonomy plan,” Pompeo said in a statement Thursday.