Foreign Policy Panel Urges US to Act to End Western Sahara Conflict "Now"

Apr 04, 2012, 15:55 ET from Moroccan American Center for Policy

Experts, former US diplomats discuss Western Sahara crisis & the need for US Leadership to end it

WASHINGTON, April 4, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Yesterday, in Washington, DC, foreign policy experts and former US diplomats participated in a roundtable, "The Western Sahara Crisis: Why US Leadership is Needed Now," which focused on the urgent need for concrete US action in support of its long-standing policy for a solution to the Western Sahara conflict based on autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty—a policy backed by the Clinton, Bush and Obama Administrations and reiterated by bipartisan majorities of both the U.S. House and Senate.  Now, more than ever, according to the panel, the Western Sahara dispute contributes to instability in the Sahara/Sahel region—home to deteriorating humanitarian conditions for Sahrawi refugees and an increasingly volatile security situation.

"It is like before 9/11, when we might have asked ourselves: 'Who cares about Afghanistan?' But jihadists ultimately need a place to operate and what we are now seeing is the creation of a safe haven [in the Sahel] for terrorists and extremists who are being squeezed out elsewhere," said Dr. J. Peter Pham, noted terrorism and security expert. "For their part, the French are starting to move on this, because they recognize that extremists in the Sahel will target Europe, and then [the United States]."

The discussion echoed a recent paper published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, which warned that "if AQIM [al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb] strengthened its alliance of convenience with the Polisario […] a formidable terrorist organization could emerge,"  as well as a February report by the International Center for Terrorism Studies (ICTS), which called the  Polisario-run refugee camps in southern Algeria "a recruiting ground for terrorists, traffickers, and other criminal enterprises."

"Resolving the Western Sahara dispute is a matter of leadership," said Ambassador Michael Ussery, who reminded the panel that the irresolution of the Western Sahara has handicapped the region since before he occupied his post as US ambassador to Morocco in the late 1980's.  "The time is now. If we [the United States] miss this opportunity, this could continue for years and years. The US must take action and seize this moment to move forward towards a definite resolution."

The roundtable's panelists included: Jean AbiNader, Senior Advisor, Moroccan American Center (Moderator); Ambassador Michael Ussery, Former US Ambassador to Morocco; Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director, Michael S. Ansari Africa Center, the Atlantic Council; and Robert M. Holley, Senior Policy Advisor, Moroccan American Center for Policy.

If you would like to speak with an expert from yesterday's roundtable or find out more about the Western Sahara and Regional Security in North Africa, visit and follow us on Twitter - @MorocOnTheMove

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SOURCE Moroccan American Center for Policy