July 2007 Monthly Forecast

Posted 28 June 2007
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Western Sahara

Expected Council Action
Western Sahara appears to have entered a new phase. Direct talks between Morocco and the Polisario have resumed in June, following Council resolution 1754. They mark an historic opportunity, and the Council is likely to encourage these negotiations to produce positive results. Finding the right mix of support and pressure for the parties to engage will be an ongoing challenge.

A report by the Secretary-General is due by 30 June and the Council is likely to adopt a presidential statement in July.

Key Recent Developments
Following presentation of an autonomy plan by Morocco and a plan for self-determination of the people of Western Sahara by the Polisario, the Council on 30 April adopted resolution 1754:

  • taking note of both plans and welcoming serious and credible Moroccan efforts to move the process forward;
  • extending until 31 October the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO);
  • calling on the parties to enter into negotiations without preconditions, under the auspices of the Secretary-General, with a view to providing for self-determination of the people of Western Sahara; and
  • requesting the Secretary-General to report to the Council by 30 June.

Morocco and the Polisario held talks on 18 and 19 June in Manhasset, outside New York, facilitated by Peter van Walsum, the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Western Sahara. The Moroccan delegation was headed by Interior Minister Chakib Benmoussa, and the Polisario delegation by Mahfoud Ali Beiba, president of the Sahrawi parliament. Algeria and Mauritania were observers but did not participate in the talks.

This direct meeting was the first since 2000. It was essentially an opening round with no real negotiations. Both parties reiterated their positions. The Polisario stated its readiness to consider the Moroccan autonomy plan, but apparently continues to insist on a referendum on self-determination, including the option of independence. Morocco seems ready to offer self-determination only based on autonomy.

The atmosphere was reported as positive. The fact that the parties agreed to hold another round in the second week of August is seen as a good sign. However, there are no illusions that the negotiating path will be other than long and difficult. The UN welcomed the meeting as a “relative success” as it launched a “real process.”

Council options include:

  • adopt a wait-and-see approach, perhaps involving a press statement welcoming achievement of the first round;
  • become more proactive (perhaps via a presidential statement) looking ahead to the second round in August and encouraging the parties; and
  • include language indicating to the parties the Council’s expectation that both sides should be ready to make concessions from opening positions if the process is to succeed.

Key Issues
The key issue for the Council is how and when to use its authority to influence the parties to stay with the negotiations and make fruitful progress. Since the process may be quite long, the Council may need to keep major inputs in reserve in the event of stalemate if it becomes necessary to apply pressure to avoid indefinite prolongation of the talks.

A related issue is how the Council, working with the Secretary-General or the Group of Friends (France, Russia, Spain, the UK and the US), can best harmonise efforts to influence the process.

Council Dynamics
Council members (and the parties) seem to see resolution 1754 as a turning point and an important achievement contributed to by the Council, which previously had long been reluctant to engage substantively on the issue.  There is a wide consensus that the Council should support this new framework for the Western Sahara issue.

However, there are still strong sympathies for the right to self-determination among many Council members. And there are still differences in terms of level of support for the parties. France traditionally backs Morocco, but Panama, Russia and South Africa seem to lean towards self-determination as envisaged by the Polisario, with independence as an option. 

The Group of Friends seems satisfied that the talks occurred in a positive atmosphere. Few if any Council members had high expectations of the first round. The prevailing feeling seems to be “so far, so good.”

Underlying Problems
There is an underlying concern that both parties still believe that making any concession would involve losing too much face.

There have been calls on Spain, which is following the process with close interest, to play a larger role. The idea of Spain surrendering to Morocco its enclaves of Ceuta and Meilla on Morocco’s Mediterranean coastline in exchange for a referendum under conditions acceptable to the Polisario, has been suggested by one observer.

UN Documents

 Selected Resolutions
  1. S/RES/1754 (30 April 2007) called for negotiations without preconditions and extended MINURSO’s mandate by six months.
 Secretary-General’s Latest Report
  • S/2007/202  (13 April 2007) on the situation concerning Western Sahara.
 Selected Letters
  • S/2007/210 (16 April 2007) was a letter from South Africa to the Council transmitting the Polisario plan.
  • S/2007/206 (11 April 2007) was a letter from Morocco to the Council transmitting the Moroccan plan.
 Other Related Documents

Other Relevant Facts

 Special Representative of the Secretary-General
 Julian Harston (UK)
 Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy
 Peter van Walsum (Netherlands)
 MINURSO Force Commander
 Major General Kurt Mosgaard (Denmark)
 Size and Composition of Mission
  • Authorised strength: 231 military personnel and six police officers
  • Strength as of 31 May 2007: 232 total uniformed personnel, including 28 troops, six police officers, 198 military observers.
 Key Troop Contributing Countries
 Malaysia, Egypt, Russia, France, Ghana, China, Honduras
 1 July 2006 – 30 June 2007: US$44.94 million

Useful Additional Sources

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