Bipartisan Senate majority pushing Clinton on Western Sahara

A rare bipartisan majority of senators has sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to urge her help in resolving a longtime political stalemate in the Western Sahara.

The letter by 54 senators, led by Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), cite "growing instability" and "worrisome trends" in North Africa that could breed terrorism. The letter includes 24 Republicans, including ranking Intelligence Committee member Kit Bond (R-Mo.), GOP Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.) and 2008 GOP presidential nominee John McCain (Ariz.). In all, half of the letter's signers are chairmen or ranking members.

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"We are writing to urge to make the resolution of the Western Sahara stalemate a U.S. foreign policy priority for North Africa," the senators wrote to Clinton. "We are very concerned about the mounting evidence of growing instability in North Africa.  Terrorist activities are increasing and countries in the region are under substantial pressure from a growing and restless youth population and a precarious economic base."

Specifically, the senators urge Clinton to pursue a "serious and credible" 2007 proposal by Morocco that would establish autonomy in the region except for symbols of Moroccan sovereignty such as currency as well as border control and foreign policy. Morocco, a major U.S. ally, reclaimed the area from Spain in the 1970s. The plan is being opposed by the Polisario, a Sahrawi rebel movement that is pushing for a regional referendum that would offer independence. A cease-fire agreement between the two sides has been in place since 1991, monitored by a special United Nations peacekeeping force.

Last year a bipartisan majority of 233 members of the House sent Obama a letter urging him to help resolve the conflict. That followed a letter signed by 179 House members to then-President George W. Bush in 2007.

This year's letter calls for "sustained attention" to the region.

"The challenges in North Africa for the United States and its allies are clear, and our leadership can make a significant difference for the better in promoting greater coordination to diminish and eliminate terrorist threats, in encouraging regional integration that will facilitate economic growth and prosperity, and in resolving the Western Sahara to remove the major obstacle to stability in the region."