By Raby Ould Idoumou
Moroccan Foreign Minister Saadeddine El Othmani arrived in Nouakchott on Tuesday (February 14th) for talks with Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz.
“We want to give new impetus to our bilateral co-operation, as well as for inter-Maghreb co-operation in general,” El Othmani said after the meeting.
The Moroccan minister delivered an invitation message to Abdel Aziz from King Mohammed VI to visit Rabat.
“There is a strong common will to build strong relationships in the future, in the field of political consultation and at the economic, cultural and other levels,” he said.
El Othmani’s visit came two days after Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki concluded a Maghreb tour. Speaking in Nouakchott last week, Marzouki called on Algeria and Morocco to “go around” the Western Sahara issue in order to re-activate the Maghreb Union.
In response to those remarks, El Othmani said that the two countries were ready to “put the issue in parentheses”. Opening the Moroccan-Algerian border is imminent, the Moroccan FM added.
“I recently paid an official visit to Algeria, where I was received by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and various officials there, and we were on the same wave,” he said.
Morocco’s chief diplomat pointed out that “building the Arab Maghreb Union has become a priority at this point, not to mention a strategic horizon that all parties agree on”.
Political observer Mohamed Ould Haja told Magharebia that “there is a new atmosphere in the Maghreb region that is headed in the direction of developing relations for the better”.
However, he cautioned that “shelving” the Western Sahara issue is not “a final solution”.
The Islamist trend in the region “seeks to consolidate common factors among nations in order to bridge the gap and narrow differences on contentious issues, through sedating problems such as that of the Western Sahara, the largest conflict across the region, and shoving it under the rug,” Ould Haja said. “That does not mean that things were settled. There is, at least, an attempt to develop the aspects agreed upon, which may push things for the better.”
For his part, Mauritanian journalist Mohamed Ould Oubeida Sharif argued that Morocco and Algeria need to be “more candid”.
“The biggest threat facing the revival of the Maghreb dream is compliments,” he said. “Political tactfulness alone will not fix the situation or resolve existing differences. Of course, if Morocco and Algeria had already ironed out the crisis, things would no doubt take a turn for the better. But there must be real interaction between the two countries, due to their highly strategic positions among countries of the Maghreb.”
El Othmani also met with his Mauritanian counterpart Hamadi Ould Hamadi. The two sides reviewed prospects of co-operation between Mauritania and Morocco and ways to promote it so as to serve their common interests.
Commenting on the state of Moroccan-Mauritanian relations, diplomat Mohamed al-Amin said that El Othmani’s visit had given new assurances of the strength of mutual ties.
Relations between the two countries soured after Mauritania expelled the chief of the local MAP office last December for “practices contrary to his profession”.
“It is natural to have issues,” El Othmani commented. “All neighbours have some problems. That is normal in life, even between spouses. There is a strong will to resolve all contentious issues through dialogue and diplomatic means.”
“Relations between the two countries are strong and we are delighted by such convergence among Maghreb states,” the Moroccan minister concluded.