Pompeo announces U.S. consulate in Western Sahara

The US will open a consulate in Western Sahara, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Thursday, further strengthening US recognition of Morocco's claim to the disputed territory.
"We are pleased to announce the start of the process to establish a US consulate in Western Sahara and the inauguration of a virtual presence post with immediate effect!" Pompeo tweeted Thursday afternoon. "We look forward to promoting economic and social development and involving the people of this region."
The virtual diplomatic presence would be managed from the U.S. embassy in Rabat and focused on economic and social development, the State Department said in a statement Thursday. The department plans to set up a full consulate in the area at some point, but with President-elect Joe Biden taking over the White House within weeks, it's unclear how his administration would approach the problem.
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Ned Price, a spokesman for the Biden transition team, declined to address the issue.
The announcement comes after President Donald Trump announced earlier this month that the US would recognize Morocco's longstanding claims to former Spanish territory as part of a normalization of Morocco-Israel relations. Israel has established relationships with a number of Arab states in the Trump administration's final months - arrangements that the president's allies have heralded as the cornerstone of its foreign policy legacy.
Before the Israel-Morocco agreement, US policy towards the territory was in line with the European Union, the United Nations, and the African Union in calling for a way to self-determine the territory. Western Sahara was a Spanish colony until the mid-1970s when Morocco invaded and de facto gained control of most of the area to this day. Morocco is at a diplomatic standoff with the self-proclaimed Arab Democratic Republic of Sahrawi, whose Polisario Front retains control of a piece of land on the Algerian border.
"The United States look forward to this increased commitment and we will continue to support the political negotiations to resolve the problems between Morocco and the POLISARIO within the framework of the Moroccan autonomy plan," said the State Department's statement on Thursday.
The Trump administration's recognition of Morocco's claim earlier this month quickly raised eyebrows from the international community to its own party. Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) Called the deal "shocking and deeply disappointing".
Former Secretary of State James Baker condemned the move last week as both an unnecessary break with the status quo and a potential source of conflict with US strategic allies in the Mediterranean, particularly in Algeria.
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