Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is set to meet with Moroccan King Mohammed VI on Thursday during a two-day visit to Rabat that seeks to mark an easing of diplomatic tensions centered on Morocco's disputed region of Western Sahara.
The King will invite Sánchez and his family to share in the Iftar meal to break the day’s fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, according to a Spanish government official not authorized to be named in media reports.
Spain’s government calls the meeting an opportunity to open a “new stage” in ties with Morocco based on “mutual respect,” but also to discuss "restraint from any unilateral action to honor the importance of all that we share and to avoid future crises.”
Relations between the two countries separated by the Strait of Gibraltar were severely frayed last April. Morocco was angered by Spain allowing the leader of the pro-independence movement for Western Sahara to receive medical treatment for COVID-19 at a Spanish hospital.
Morocco responded by loosening its border controls around Spain’s North Africa enclave of Ceuta, provoking the unauthorized crossing of thousands of young Moroccans and migrants from other African countries, according to The Associated Press.
The mood did not improve until last month, when Sánchez took the surprising decision to alter Spain’s long-standing position on Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony. In a letter to King Mohammed, Sánchez backed Morocco’s plan to give more autonomy to Western Sahara as long as it remains unquestionably under Moroccan grip.
The Spanish leader called Rabat’s proposal “the most serious, realistic and credible” initiative for resolving the decades-long dispute over the vast territory — that’s largely barren but rich in phosphates and faces fertile fishing grounds in the Atlantic Ocean.
Morocco, in turn, sent back its ambassador to Spain 10 months after he was recalled.
Morocco is now seeking assurances that Spain’s support for the autonomy proposal is a strategic shift in its foreign policy. King Mohammed said last year that his country will not sign any economic partnerships with countries that oppose Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara.