U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrapped up a three-nation tour of the Middle East and North Africa on Wednesday with appeals for Algeria to limit ties with Russia and look to improve relations with neighboring Morocco.
“The countries of North Africa and the Middle East have experienced themselves the consequences of Russia’s military campaigns before,” Blinken said, noting Russian interventions in Syria and Libya and the impact on energy and food security that the Ukraine conflict is having.
“The international community must increase the pressure on Russia to end this unprovoked and unjustified war,” he said.
Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune has in the past referred to Russia as a “brotherly country,” and has maintained pressure on Morocco over its claim to the disputed territory of the Western Sahara, where Algeria backs independence fighters.
‘Stand with the victim’
After meeting with Tebboune, Blinken said the Ukraine conflict should cause all countries to re-evaluate relations with Russia and express their support for the territorial integrity of other states.
“I know that that’s something Algerians feel strongly about,” he said.
“There are times when one issue emerges that is so clearly black and white,” he said. “It’s important to stand with the victim and to stand with the principles that have also been violated.”
Algeria has had close ties with Russia since its independence from France in 1962 and is a major purchaser of Russian weaponry.
It is also locked in a bitter dispute with Morocco over the status of the former Spanish colony of Western Sahara. Algiers opposes a plan by Rabat to retain control of the territory while granting it semi-autonomous status.
Algerian officials provided no immediate readout of Tebboune’s meeting with Blinken.
Blinken and other U.S. officials have praised the Moroccan plan as “serious, realistic and credible” but have not explicitly endorsed it as the path to a resolution. Earlier this month, Algeria angrily recalled its ambassador to Spain after the Spanish government offered the same assessment — an enormous departure from its earlier stance of considering Morocco’s grip on Western Sahara an occupation.
Blinken did not repeat the phrase at his news conference in Algiers and instead said only that the U.S. fully supports U.N. efforts to resolve the situation.
“We’re very focused on diplomacy,” he said.
Blinken came to Algeria a day after meeting senior Moroccan officials in Rabat, where he praised Morocco’s improvements in ties with Israel.
And on Monday, Blinken had been in Israel’s Negev Desert where he and the Israeli foreign minister participated in a historic gathering with their counterparts from Arab nations, including Morocco, that have normalized relations with Israel.
Morocco, along with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, was one of the countries to fully normalize relations with Israel during the Trump administration’s push to negotiate the so-called “Abraham Accords,” in which the U.S. pledged significant support in exchange for such recognition.
For its part, Morocco won U.S. recognition for its claim to Western Sahara in return for its agreement with Israel.
In a rare endorsement of a Trump foreign policy initiative, the Biden administration has signaled its full backing for the Abraham Accords and pledged to try to expand and strengthen them.
But, while the administration has not revoked Trump’s decision on Western Sahara, it has taken few steps to advance it, and plans to build a U.S. consulate there have not advanced since Trump announced them in 2020.
That has led to questions about whether Washington is fully on board with Moroccan sovereignty over the former Spanish colony.