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Obama reverses Bush-backed Morocco plan in favor of Polisario state

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WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama has backed a Polisario state, ending U.S. support for a Moroccan plan to establish autonomy for Western Sahara. Morocco has warned the West that such a state could become a haven for Al Qaida and other terror organizations.

Diplomatic sources said the Obama administration has disassociated itself from a Moroccan plan for autonomy for the disputed Western Sahara. They said the White House no longer sees itself as committed to the endorsement by then-President George Bush of Western Sahara autonomy.

“The United States no longer supports or endorses the Moroccan autonomy plan,” a diplomatic source said. “Instead, the administration has returned to the pre-Bush position that there could be an independent Polisario state in Western Sahara.”

“The Moroccans have become highly concerned by the U.S. reversal,” the source said. “It calls into question whether Obama sees himself as committed to anything agreed to by his predecessors, which is a key factor in diplomacy.”

In 2007, Rabat launched its plan to end the 35-year-old dispute with the Algerian-backed Polisario by offering autonomy to Western Sahara, 80 percent of which has been under Moroccan control.

At the time, Morocco persuaded such allies as France and the United States that a Polisario-dominated state would become a haven for Islamic insurgency groups, including Al Qaida.

But the sources said the administration dropped U.S. support for Western Sahara autonomy in June 2009. They said the White House ordered the State Department to interpret the United Nations mediation effort between Morocco and Polisario as including the option of statehood. In 2008, a Security Council report determined that Polisario’s demand for independence for Western Sahara was unfeasible.

Obama reversed U.S. policy on Western Sahara in a letter to Morocco’s King Mohammed in June, the sources said. The letter, which focused on a U.S. request for Morocco’s help to advance the Arab-Israeli peace process, ended with a reference to UN-sponsored talks on Western Sahara.

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