Clinton, Feinstein reaffirm U.S. support for political resolution in North Africa

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday reaffirmed the U.S.'s support for a United Nations effort to resolve a longtime political stalemate in the Western Sahara.

In the Senate for a private meeting, Clinton acknowledged she had received a letter signed by a rare, bipartisan majority of senators, led by Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), that cited "growing instability" and "worrisome trends" in North Africa. 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.).

The senators had urged 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 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.

"There's a United Nations process that we're supporting," Clinton told The Hill.

Feinstein, a good friend of Clinton's, told The Hill that she raised the issue with the secretary over dinner recently, and that the two "are on the same wavelength" on the issue.

"The way I feel about it, Morocco has been a staunch ally of the United States, this is a big problem, and this is a reasonable way to settle it," Feinstein said. "The Moroccan government wants to settle the issue, and it makes sense to me to do it this way. And it does provide a level of autonomy for the people who would live in that area."

Feinstein said she doesn't know if Clinton plans to visit the region anytime soon. In the senators' letter to Clinton last week, they urged her to make the resolution "a U.S. foreign policy priority."

"We are very concerned about the mounting evidence of growing instability in North Africa," the senators wrote. " 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."

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, citing the possibility that the area could become a breeding ground for terrorists.