Spain and Morocco aim to restore the difficult relationship at the Rabat summit

  • Spain and Morocco hold first summit in eight years
  • Relations long strained by illegal migration issue
  • Expected to sign up to 20 trade and investment agreements

RABAT, 2 February (Reuters) – Spain and Morocco have agreed to put aside their differences, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Thursday, as they seek to mend a relationship marked by frequent disputes over migration and territory.

Sanchez was speaking at a summit in Rabat where the two countries signed as many as 20 agreements to boost trade and investment, including credit lines of up to 800 million euros ($873 million).

“We have agreed on mutual respect, where we will avoid in our discourse and political practice anything that we know will offend the other party, especially with regard to our respective spheres of sovereignty,” Sanchez said.

There have been regular diplomatic crises over Spain’s enclaves in Africa, Morocco’s dispute with rebels over Western Sahara, and the arrival of thousands of illegal migrants in Spain via Morocco.

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Morocco refuses to recognize Spanish sovereignty over Ceuta and Melilla, but last year the two countries agreed to open the first customs checkpoint in Ceuta.

Madrid says this is a reflection of Rabat’s recognition of the enclaves as foreign territory, but Morocco has made no public statement indicating that its long-held position that the enclaves should be part of its territory has changed.

Sanchez reestablished cordial relations with Rabat in March 2022 after reversing former colonial master Spain’s four-decade policy toward Western Sahara by supporting Morocco’s proposal to create an autonomous region.

Forging peace between neighbors has forced Sanchez’s socialists into some uncomfortable positions.

Last month, MEPs voted against a resolution in the European Parliament calling on Morocco to improve its record on press freedom. MEP Juan Fernando Lopez said this week that maintaining cordial neighborly relations sometimes involves “swallowing a toad”.

Spain’s turnaround in Western Sahara angered Algeria, an ally of the Polisario Front, which suspended trade with Spain and warned it could cut the flow of natural gas even as it forges closer gas ties with Italy.

Spanish exports to Algeria fell 41% from January to November 2022 to 1 billion euros ($1.09 billion) compared to a year earlier, according to the Ministry of Industry. Exports to Morocco increased by 27% to 10.8 billion euros in the same period.

Spain expects to receive a significant share of the €45 billion Morocco is expected to invest in improving infrastructure by 2050, a source in the Spanish government said.

Spanish companies are well positioned to win concessions in key sectors of Rabat’s development plan, such as water treatment and renewable energy, the person said.

State railway operators Renfe and Adif are working with their Moroccan counterpart to develop new train lines, which could generate a turnover of 6 billion euros.

Spain is discussing how to remove Morocco from a gray list of money laundering countries, another government source said. A delegation from the Financial Action Task Force, a Paris-based global money laundering and terrorist financing watchdog, visited Morocco last month and is expected to announce later this month whether Morocco can be removed from the list.

In Rabat, Moroccan Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch on Thursday expressed satisfaction with Spain’s support for Morocco’s autonomy plan as the “most credible solution” to resolve the Western Sahara dispute, but did not refer to an agreement to resolve all sovereignty disputes. to set aside.

A joint statement made no mention of Spain’s enclaves in Morocco, though it reiterated Spain’s new position over Western Sahara. Morocco said it expected Spain’s forthcoming presidency of the European Union would mean it could act as a conduit for better relations with the bloc.

Both countries agreed to cooperate in the repatriation of illegal migrants.

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Reporting by Bethlehem Carreño and Ahmed Eljechtimi; Written by Charlie Devereux; Edited by Gareth Jones, Aislinn Laing, Nick Macfie and Jonathan Oatis

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