President George W. Bush and Morocco’s King Mohammed met at the White House to discuss trade, security cooperation, human rights, and other matters. A free trade agreement signed by the U.S. and Morocco is expected to be considered soon by the U.S. Congress for ratification. Morocco has also been named a “major non-NATO ally” of the U.S. Here is White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan:
“The President emphasized to the King his desire to see the free trade agreement ratified this year. The two leaders also spent a good bit of time talking about the global war on terrorism, and our cooperation in those efforts. . . . We certainly appreciate the commitments from Morocco to help support the Iraqi people as they move forward on improving the security situation and building a free and peaceful society. The leaders also discussed the Middle East peace process, and they also discussed the issue of the Western Sahara.”
The Western Sahara is a sparsely populated area that was a Spanish protectorate until 1976. When Spain pulled out, Morocco and Mauritania each annexed part of the area. In the Moroccan part, a group called the Polisario fought a guerrilla war with Moroccan forces until 1991, when a cease-fire was announced and United Nations peacekeeping troops were deployed. A U-N sponsored referendum on self-determination has been repeatedly postponed. The U.S. has long promoted a peaceful settlement in the Western Sahara.
In regard to human rights matters, White House spokesman McClellan commented on the reforms in Morocco:
“Morocco has undertaken some important reforms to protect the rights of women and children, moving forward on their family law. And we appreciate those efforts.”
Because human rights are critically important, says White House spokesman McClellan, President Bush “has put forward the Broader Middle East Initiative, to support calls for reform from within the region, calls for moving forward on democratic reforms. And [the U.S.] will continue to work to do that.”