RABAT (Reuters) -Morocco and Spain said on Thursday they agreed to turn a new page in relations after Madrid supported Rabat’s autonomy plan for Western Sahara, ending a year-long diplomatic crisis.
During a meeting in Rabat, King Mohammed VI and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez “reiterated their willingness to usher a new phase, based on mutual respect, mutual trust, permanent consultation and frank and faithful cooperation,” a Royal Palace statement said.
It also said Sanchez reaffirmed a position he had expressed last month, describing Morocco’s autonomy plan for Western Sahara as “the most serious, realistic and credible” basis for solving the dispute over Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony Morocco considers as its own but where the Algeria-backed Polisario Front wants to establish its own state.
A joint Spain-Morocco statement said they will immediately resume sea travel.
Some 3 million Moroccans cross from Europe to Morocco during the summer, mostly using Spanish ports. Morocco has excluded Spanish ports for the last two years citing COVID-19 concerns.
Moroccan-Spanish ties turned glacial when Spain admitted Polisario leader, Brahim Ghali, in April last year for medical treatment, without officially telling Rabat.
The Polisario Front and its ally Algeria reject the autonomy proposal and insist on holding an independence referendum.
In response to hosting Ghali, Moroccan authorities appeared to relax border controls with Ceuta, a Spanish enclave in northern Morocco, leading to an influx of at least 8,000 migrants, most of whom were later returned.
The two countries also agreed to resume normalcy in passenger and goods traffic on sea and land crossings.
The measure will provide a lifeline to the battered economies of two Spanish enclaves Ceuta and Melilla, which depend largely on trade with Morocco.
They also agreed to work together on the demarcation of Atlantic sea borders in addition to airspace management as well as to reinforce cooperation on migration, economy, energy, industry and culture.
Morocco had announced that it will start this month importing gas using Spanish LNG terminals by reactivating an idled pipeline.
Spain’s stance on Western Sahara marks a policy shift in favour of Morocco’s claim to the territory, but was criticized in Spain. A majority of lawmakers, including from the left- and right-wing opposition as well as Unidas Podemos, the junior government partner to Sanchez’s Socialist Party, voted in a resolution against the foreign policy change.
(Reporting by Ahmed Eljechtimi in Rabat and Inti Landauro in Madrid;Editing by Alistair Bell and Grant McCool)