April 13, 2007
United Press International

Outside View: Elliot Abrams' Maghreb Plot

by Clayton E. Swisher

As the debris from bombings by the newly formed al-Qaida in Maghreb offshoot in the heart of the Algerian capital still smolders, another attack is looming in the diplomatic front.

Elliot Abrams, the deputy national security adviser for global democracy strategy, is again sowing the seeds of conflict in the Middle East. This time it's in the disputed Western Sahara, under Moroccan control following the end of Spanish colonial rule in 1975.

After being marginalized from the Arab-Israeli arena, now under the almost exclusive domain of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her State Department, Abrams is pulling free the grenade pin that may shortly cause North Africa to explode. He is on the verge of achieving a major U.S. policy shift that would have Washington backing Morocco's unilateral imposition of its so-called Western Sahara Initiative, or autonomy plan upon the indigenous Sahrawi people of Western Sahara.

U.S. officials distracted by other pressing regional conflagrations first viewed Abrams' Maghreb meddling as a small price to be paid for getting him out of the Arab-Israeli domain. They barely paid attention as Abrams tinkered with a new Western Sahara strategy, an embryonic idea raised by outgoing U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton (who threatened to do away with the Western Sahara peacekeeping mission, which turned costly over time in the absence of a successful settlement).

Largely indifferent U.S. government bureaucrats were jarred awake this week with the terrorist bombings in Algeria. State and government counter-terrorism officials began immediately scrutinizing Abrams' new Western Sahara strategy out of fear that the perception the United States was siding with Morocco would upend the U.S.-Algerian Trans-Saharan Counter-Terrorism Initiative and undermine closer cooperation in the energy sector. . . .


[Clayton E. Swisher is director of programs at the Middle East Institute in Washington.]

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