Kerry’s—and Congress’s—valued partner in Morocco

Earlier this month, Secretary of State John Kerry concluded his whirlwind tour through Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa in Morocco, to co-chair the second US-Morocco Strategic Dialogue. With consensus with Europe on Putin’s expansionist policies only lukewarm, and the apparent derailment of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, one can imagine that Kerry was relieved to arrive in Rabat. 

There, Kerry met with a partner that shares our vision of stability and security in the region, and makes common cause with the U.S. on how to move forward to achieve it. In summing up his visit at the second Morocco-U.S. Strategic Dialogue in Rabat, Kerry said, “The U.S. stands by and will stand by this relationship every step of the way.” He hailed Morocco’s “essential leadership role” on its reform program and its proactive strategy to enhance regional security and stability in Africa and the Middle East.

The joint statement issued at the conclusion of the visit was a clear indication that the U.S. sees Morocco as a partner, one that America will continue to support as Morocco advances its economic, political, social, human rights, and governance reforms. The statement commended King Mohammed VI’s leadership in “deepening democracy and promoting economic progress and human development.”

These sentiments were echoed by Members of Congress at a hearing earlier this week on U.S. policy toward Morocco, held by the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa. In her opening statement, Subcommittee Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) said, “The Administration must continue to see Morocco as the potential for what other North African transitional countries can do, and we must look to glean the best practices from its approach and see how it can be implemented in neighboring countries as well.” Calling Morocco a “critical partner,” Ranking Member Theodore E. Deutch (D-Fla.) said, “It’s clear that Morocco is committed to taking substantial action,” to improve security and stability in the Maghreb and Sahel.

On the critical issue of the Western Sahara, the U.S. and Morocco are partners in working together to resolve this almost 40-year-old dispute. The joint statement released following Kerry’s visit reiterated once again that “the United States’ policy toward the Western Sahara has remained consistent for many years,” and that “Morocco’s autonomy plan is serious, realistic, and credible.” The members of Congress at the hearing also publicly supported the US’s longstanding policy advocating for a solution based on a formula of autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty. 

Testimony from Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Egypt and Maghreb Affairs William Roebuck and Alina Romanowski of USAID's Bureau for the Middle East, as well as comments and questions from subcommittee members, focused on the two countries’ successful trade and security partnership, Morocco’s significant progress on human rights and political reform, and Morocco’s role as a model for other countries in the region.

It is clear that both the administration and Congress view Morocco as an equal partner, serious about moving ahead with reforms and dedicated to advancing regional economic progress, stability, and security based on strongly shared values and interests with the US.

Secretary Kerry and Morocco’s formula of achieving progress through a partnership of shared values and concerns is a far stronger basis for securing results than top-down pressure that satisfies neither party. Policy makers and NGOs who are Morocco watchers should study Secretary Kerry’s statement closely. He and Congress believe that Morocco is headed in the right direction and is a willing and valued partner.

It’s been difficult for the US to find a success story in foreign policy lately.  The Obama Administration now can point to Morocco, a country that is seldom in the news yet is a reliable and staunch ally, worth investing in, and one that shares common interests and values with the United States. America needs that kind of partner now more than ever.

Gabriel is a former U.S. ambassador to Morocco, 1997 to 2001, and currently advises the government of Morocco.