Top US official gears up for US presence in Western Sahara

RABAT, MOROCCO (AP) – The highest ranking United States (US) diplomat for North Africa and the Middle East travelled Saturday to the city of Laayoune, which Morocco considers the capital of the Western Sahara, laying the groundwork for the US to set up a consulate in the disputed territory.

The US Embassy in Morocco’s capital, Rabat, called the visit by Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker “historic”.

The US agreed to recognise Morocco’s claim over Western Sahara as part of a deal engineered by Washington. US President Donald Trump announced the deal last month.

Schenker visited the neighbourhood of Laayoune that houses foreign consulates and met with the region’s top Moroccan official or wali Abdesslam Bikrat. The American Diplomat is scheduled to head Sunday to Dakhla, a seaside town with a fishing port where the official US presence in the Western Sahara likely is to be set up over time.

Schenker’s visit comes less than two weeks before the inauguration of US President-elect Joe Biden on January 20, when Trump is officially set to leave office.