U.S. Pressured to Open Consulates in Jerusalem and Western Sahara

RABAT, Morocco — In talks this week with the highest American diplomat, Arab leaders made clear they wished a concrete signal of the Biden administration’s help: the opening of U.S. consulates in each Jerusalem and the disputed territory of Western Sahara.

However Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken studiously averted any public dedication as to when these diplomatic missions may grow to be a actuality, if ever.

The destiny of the consulates already promised by the USA — one to serve Palestinians in Jerusalem and the opposite in Western Sahara — has hung over the Biden administration since its earliest days. Each would require President Biden to resolve whether or not to stay with dramatic overseas coverage shifts led to by the Trump administration, or reverse them and face a diplomatic and political backlash from longtime allies.

Neither have been talked about within the Biden administration’s $1 billion spending plan for development, upkeep and safety at embassies and diplomatic compounds all over the world in 2023 — casting doubt that they might be open earlier than the top of subsequent 12 months. That made Mr. Blinken’s silence on the topic all of the extra notable when it surfaced after conferences within the West Financial institution metropolis of Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority, and in Rabat, Morocco’s capital.

“Moroccan and U.S. relations are sturdy — ongoing, and transferring ahead in the proper path,” Overseas Minister Nasser Bourita of Morocco mentioned on Tuesday when requested at a information convention with Mr. Blinken whether or not he was involved concerning the stalled U.S. consulate in Dakhla, a metropolis in Western Sahara.

Morocco claims sovereignty over the territory, which the United Nations and different states have lengthy seen as below dispute.

The Trump administration, in its waning days, formally acknowledged Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara and agreed to open a U.S. consulate there in late 2020 as an incentive for Morocco to normalize relations with Israel.

On Tuesday, Mr. Bourita advised that the U.S. administration’s inaction thus far on the consulate was merely a matter of timing.

Two days earlier, with Mr. Blinken sitting uncomfortably at his aspect, Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, raised the problem of reopening a U.S. consulate in Jerusalem as a part of what he described as “the implementation of what the administration of President Biden believes in.”

Mr. Biden had promised during his 2020 presidential campaign to reverse President Donald J. Trump’s choice in 2018 to shut the consulate in Jerusalem, the place it for many years had dealt with visas and different paperwork Palestinians wanted to immigrate to the USA.

Its closing amounted to a diplomatic downgrading of U.S. ties to the Palestinians and adopted the Trump administration’s 2017 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital — transferring the U.S. embassy there, looking for to curry political favor with evangelicals and pro-Israel American Jewish voters forward of the presidential election.

Israel opposes reopening the consulate in Jerusalem, a place that Overseas Minister Yair Lapid underscored in a information convention on Sunday with Mr. Blinken.

“We now have no drawback, after all, and it’s not even our place to say something if the USA needs to open an workplace to cope with the day-to-day issues, or consular issues, of Palestinians,” Mr. Lapid mentioned in reply to a query about Israel’s opposition. “We simply don’t assume Jerusalem is the proper place for this, as a result of Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and Israel alone.”

Palestinians view East Jerusalem because the capital of a future state, and many of the world considers it occupied territory. Mr. Trump’s choice to acknowledge Israel’s sovereignty over the entire metropolis reversed almost seven a long time of American overseas coverage and was roundly criticized by a few of the United States’ strongest allies.

Mr. Blinken didn’t tackle the problem within the three public venues by which the destiny of both the consulate in Jerusalem or the one deliberate for Western Sahara was raised, and was in a roundabout way requested about them. He spoke at size in Ramallah and Rabat about monetary help, coronavirus vaccines, job coaching, training help and different advantages the USA was giving to every authorities.

U.S. officers have largely sidestepped questions concerning the consulates in current days by saying there was nothing to announce right now, as Brian McKeon, the deputy secretary of state for administration on the State Division told reporters on Monday when requested if there was cash within the 2023 spending plan to open them.

Whereas the peace course of between Israelis and Palestinians has gone chilly, the Biden administration is attempting to de-escalate tensions between Morocco and the Polisario Entrance, a separatist motion within the Western Sahara.

The 2 sides have clashed for years over the territory, and Mr. Trump’s recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty infected the Polisario and its major ally, neighboring Algeria. Whereas some international locations contemplate Western Sahara as impartial, others help U.N. efforts for a negotiated answer.

This month, Spain endorsed a Moroccan plan to manipulate Western Sahara however give native officers there some stage of autonomy. Algeria responded by recalling its ambassador to Spain.

The shift was notable as a result of Spain and Morocco had feuded over the destiny of Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony that was later occupied by Moroccan forces, resulting in a 16-year struggle with the Polisario motion. A 1991 cease-fire brokered by the United Nations was ruptured in late 2020, however the hostilities have cooled in current weeks.

On the Tuesday information convention with the Moroccan overseas minister, Mr. Blinken additionally known as the Moroccan plan “critical, credible, and practical,” echoing Spain’s endorsement. However Mr. Blinken additionally appeared to hedge, calling the plan “one potential strategy to satisfy the aspirations of the folks of Western Sahara.”

On the similar time, the Biden administration appears decided to slow-walk the consulate opening in Western Sahara and seem to stay impartial within the dispute.

Selecting sides may additionally threat geopolitical fallout for an additional battle — the Russian invasion of Ukraine — and Mr. Blinken has been attempting onerous this week to enlist Center Jap and North African nations in hampering Moscow, whether or not by navy or financial means.

Algeria has supplied to ship fuel to European markets which have been depending on Russian power, and Mr. Blinken should stroll a nice line to help that provide with out changing into snarled in Algeria’s feud with Morocco.

American officers have been warily watching to see whether or not Algeria will shut off its fuel exports to Europe by way of a pipeline that goes straight to Spain on account of the brand new dispute over Western Sahara — a difficulty that Mr. Blinken was anticipated to boost on Wednesday throughout a short go to to Algeria.

However he should additionally take care to not alienate Morocco, an ally with which the USA has shut counterterrorism cooperation.

“The Biden administration’s final concern is to implement Trump’s empty guarantees,” mentioned Sion Assidon, a distinguished leftist determine and human rights activist in Morocco who usually advocates for the Palestinian trigger.

Lara Jakes reported from Rabat, Morocco and Aida Alami from Paris.

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