WASHINGTON, July 27, 2009 — President Obama's nominee to be U.S. ambassador to Morocco seemed to confirm a U.S. policy shift on the Western Sahara in testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
In addition, Samuel Kaplan said Morocco faces a growing threat from the Al Qaida Organization in the Islamic Maghreb.
Kaplan, a career attorney and businessman said AQIM has managed to recruit operatives from the slums of Moroccan cities, despite increased counter-insurgency cooperation.
"While the Moroccan government has been successful in finding, arresting and prosecuting terrorist cells over the years, the specter of transnational terrorism has grown significantly in the region," Kaplan said.
Kaplan said the key impediment to Moroccan cooperation with its neighbors has been the dispute over Western Sahara. In his nomination hearing, Kaplan did not cite Morocco's autonomy plan for Western Sahara or support by Congress and the former Bush administration.
Diplomatic sources said President Barack Obama has withdrawn U.S. support for Morocco's autonomy plan. The sources said Obama has not ruled out a United Nations-arranged effort that would grant the Algerian-backed Polisario control over the entire region.
"One of the major impediments to improved cooperation among North African countries has been the issue of Western Sahara," Kaplan said. "If I am confirmed as ambassador to Morocco, I will fully support the efforts of the UN secretary-general's personal envoy to work with Morocco and other parties in the region toward a just, lasting and mutually-acceptable political solution."
In testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kaplan, a career attorney and businessman, reviewed the U.S. assessment of the security situation in Morocco. He said the North African kingdom must reduce AQIM's capability by accelerating development, democracy and regional cooperation.
"If confirmed, I will continue our efforts to promote partnership, expand U.S. exports, promote human rights, counter extremism, reinforce military cooperation and peacekeeping, and of course, to protect Americans living abroad," Kaplan said on July 22.
In 2008, the United States launched a project to supply Morocco, deemed a major non-NATO ally, with 24 F-16 Block 52+ multi-role fighters. Morocco has been the first North African to order the advanced F-16.
Since 1975, three quarters of the territory of Western Sahara has been occupied by Morocco. A majority of the population is still living in refugee camps in Algeria. Those who remained in their homeland are subjected to serious harassment from the Moroccan occupiers. For more than 40 years the Sahrawis have been waiting for the fullfilment of their legitimate right to self-determination.
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