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MOROCCO - The US Approach.

Soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks the US launched a global manhunt for the Al Qaida and all those associated with it in any way. The American approach, coming in the "heat of the moment", was aggressive and not prepared to "take no for an answer", as observers in the region put it. As such, any country seen as being reluctant to co-operate fully risked becoming a potential target of American wrath. Morocco, regarded as one of the closest allies of the US in the Middle East, was prepared to co-operate fully.

In fact, the sympathetic Moroccan response was immediate and highly symbolic, according to observers, reaffirming in American minds the value of Morocco as an ally. On Sept. 16, for the first-time since the death of late King Hassan II in 1999, Morocco's ruling and opposition parties (including the Islamic Party for Justice and Development), parliamentary leaders, and top military brass attended a memorial service for the victims of the US attacks. The service at St. Pierre Cathedral in Rabat, with Morocco's Muslim and Jewish leaders and the representative of the Holy See attendant, was broadcast live on Moroccan TV and French TV-5 with excerpts on CNN.

In another first, Abbas Jirari, the religious counselor to King Mohamed, read a special message from the King at the unexpected venue: a Catholic Cathedral, in the heart of Rabat. In the message the King " received with great sadness news of the attacks, which I condemn in the strongest terms". King Mohammed proceeded to remind the world of Morocco's continuing tradition of tolerance towards Jews and Christians.

One reason why Morocco would become a key player in the hunt for Al Qaida in the aftermath of the attacks was that several key players in the Al Qaida network had some Moroccan connection, being either from the country, or having visited it, or being associated with it through contacts, etc. The most famous example is Zacarias Moussaoui, a French citizen of Moroccan descent, who is accused of conspiracy in the Sept. 11 attacks.

However, being one of the most geo-politically aware countries in the Arab World, Morocco wanted this co-operation to be discreet as well. Washington was prepared to co-operate on such a basis provided that it got the results that it wanted from the Moroccan government and security services. The way in which backstage co-ordination between the security services of the two countries has been yielding results suggests that both sides are quite satisfied with the arrangement.

Speaking on Dec.5, 2001, US Ambassador to Morocco Margaret Tutwiler (the former US State Department spokeswoman) said: "To anyone who might say, 'This is not Morocco's fight', I would offer a few reminders from history. The American war of independence was not Morocco's fight; but the Moroccan Sultan wrote to George Washington shortly thereafter and established a bond of friendship that remains strong to this day. Morocco's struggle for independence was not America's fight; but we supported your aspirations, and President Eisenhower offered tangible assistance to help consolidate the security of newly independent Morocco".

This was seen as a reaction to Moroccan public sentiment that the country should not go out of its way to help the US after Sept. 11, because it did not have any direct interest in doing so. There were also fears among government circles that, if the regime did help the US in a high-profile way, there would be a domestic backlash. So far, however, nothing of the sort has materialised despite the sustained crackdown against radical Islamists in the country.

The level of co-operation between the two countries on the war against terror as well as bilateral issues have been kept up through diplomatic contacts via regular channels as well as through exchanges of high level visits. In 2002, US Secretary of State Colin Powell has visited Morocco and King Mohammed has visited Washington.

In remarks to the press after talks at the Oval Office on April 23, US President Bush said: "We've had a really good discussion about a number of matters. No question that Morocco is a great friend of the United States of America and for that, Your Majesty, we are very grateful. I appreciate your steadfast support when it comes to the war on terror".

In his subsequent comments, King Mohammed pointed out that "With respect to terrorism, Mr. President, we are also determined to go ahead with you in fighting terrorism. And this is something of concern to Morocco as much as it's of concern to the United States and all democratic people in the world".
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Publication:APS Diplomat Strategic Balance in the Middle East
Geographic Code:6MORO
Date:Nov 11, 2002
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