GOP chairman calls Trump’s Western Sahara deal ‘shocking and deeply disappointing’

Bonnie Cash

The Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee is blasting President Trump’s deal to recognize Morocco’s claims to contested territory in the Western Sahara in exchange for the North African country formalizing diplomatic relations with Israel.

In a statement Thursday, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said he applauds Trump’s “unprecedented efforts to foster recognition between Israel and Arab nations through the Abraham Accords” but he called the decision on the Western Sahara “shocking and deeply disappointing.”

“I am saddened that the rights of the Western Saharan people have been traded away,” he said. “The president has been poorly advised by his team; he could have made this deal without trading the rights of a voiceless people.”

Trump announced U.S. recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over the Western Sahara in a series of tweets Thursday announcing that the country had become the fourth Muslim-majority and Arab country to open ties with Israel in recent months, following U.S.-brokered diplomatic breakthroughs this year with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan.

Morocco annexed the full territory of the Western Sahara in 1979 but did not receive international recognition of its claims in the face of conflict with the indigenous Sahrawi people, represented by the political-military group Polisario Front. The final status of the territory has stalled under a 1991 cease-fire brokered by the United Nations.

In his statement Thursday, Inhofe vowed that he “won’t stop fighting” for the Sahrawi people, expressing hope the United States will return to alignment with the international community on the issue.

“During my most recent visit to the Sahrawi refugee camps, I visited with the children that lived there. They were joyous, happy, ordinary children who didn’t know yet that they were part of a frozen, forgotten conflict where their hopes and freedoms were dying a cruel death,” he said.

“Today’s announcement does not change the United Nations or [European Union] positions, nor the charter of the African Union, nor the opinion of the [International Court of Justice] – a referendum must still happen,” he added. “I urge these organizations to stand strong to support Western Sahara’s right to self-determination and am confident the U.S. will be able to return to the policy we’ve held since 1966.”

Inhofe’s break with Trump on the Western Sahara is the typically staunchly loyal senator’s second high-profile split from the president in recent weeks.

Inhofe and Trump are also clashing over the annual defense policy bill that Inhofe helps shepherd as Senate Armed Services chairman. Trump is threatening to veto the bill and explicitly called out Inhofe in tweets for not meeting his demands to address an unrelated tech policy in the bill.

Inhofe has responded by holding firm on keeping the tech issue out of the bill, saying adding it would endanger the must-pass defense bill.

Tags Donald Trump Morocco Morocco conflict in Western Sahara
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