For 10 months, Spain was in “an absolutely unsustainable situation” with Morocco, a strategic ally with whom “ties were cut from a political, diplomatic and economic point of view”, he said on a visit to Ceuta, one of two Spanish enclaves in North Africa.
“This was a crisis that could no longer be sustained over time, that we had to solve,” he said.
It was the first time Sánchez has spoken about last Friday’s bombshell announcement that Spain had agreed to publicly recognise Rabat’s autonomy plan for disputed Western Sahara, a Spanish colony until 1975.
The decision drew a line under Madrid’s decades-long stance of neutrality, giving in to years of pressure from Rabat in order to end a major diplomatic crisis, which erupted just over a year ago.
Diplomatic ties nose-dived in April 2021 after Madrid allowed Western Sahara’s independence leader Brahim Ghali to be treated at a Spanish hospital for Covid-19.
Ghali’s Polisario Front has long fought for the independence of Western Sahara, a desert region bigger than Britain, that was a Spanish colony until 1975.
Then in mid-May, more than 10,000 migrants surged into Ceuta as Moroccan border forces looked the other way in what was widely seen as a punitive gesture by Rabat.
And despite multiple overtures by Madrid, ties remained frosty until now.
‘Essential to resume normalisation’
“We’re not only ending a crisis that had its clearest and most striking expression on 18 May 2021.. the most important thing is that we’re laying the foundations for a much more solid, stronger relationship with the Kingdom of Morocco,” Sánchez said.
“From now, it’s essential that we begin to develop this normalisation in economic and trade relations.. and in fundamental aspects such as migration control and security,” he said.
Migration is a key issue for Spain, with Morocco playing a fundamental role in controlling migratory flows — an issue which observers say has often been used by Rabat to put pressure on Madrid.
But Sánchez has come under fire for the secrecy surrounding the agreement, a major foreign policy shift that wasn’t ever discussed with his coalition partners, and for how it came to light via a statement from Morocco’s royal palace.
“We have been working diplomatically, silently, but I believe the result is good for Spain and Morocco,” he said, indicating the agreement had been under negotiation for 10 months.
Although Morocco quickly returned its own ambassador to Spain who had been recalled for consultations, the move infuriated Algeria, which supports the Polisario Front and is one of Spain’s main gas suppliers.
Western Sahara is designated by the UN as a “non-self-governing territory” whose people “have not yet attained a full measure of self-government”.
Morocco controls 80 percent of the territory, while the rest — an area bordering Mauritania that is almost totally landlocked — is run by the Polisario Front.