Posted on June 26, 2000 in Washington Watch

His Majesty King Muhammad VI took Washington by storm last week. The Clinton Administration gave the young Moroccan monarch an extraordinary reception. Highlights of the visit included: the largest-ever state dinner, formal luncheon with the Secretary of State, a dinner with the Secretary of Defense, and a warm reception on Capitol Hill which featured both a luncheon in the King’s honor and the unanimous passage of a Senate resolution pledging “an expansion of ties” between Morocco and the United States.

In public and private comments, President Clinton and Secretary Albright repeatedly acknowledged Morocco as “America’s oldest friend” and praised King Muhammad as one of the Middle East’s most able leaders.

Clinton in his toast observed, “no foreign guest is more deserving of a warm welcome here than King Muhammad.”

In her remarks, Albright noted that “America will never forget that in 1777 the first nation in the world to recognize the United States was the Kingdom of Morocco.” And in 1787 the United States signed a treaty of “peace and friendship” with Morocco–the “longest unbroken treaty of its kind in all history.”

Relations have long been close between the two countries–they have become even closer in recent years. The United States sees Morocco, as Clinton noted, as the Arab world’s most successful democratic experiment. While many reforms were begun during the reign of King Hassan II, King Muhammad receives high grades for his commitment to advancing democracy and deepening respect for human rights.

Clinton publicly recognized the effort made by King Muhammad to improve social and economic conditions and civil society and “to heal old wounds, promote political freedoms, and protect human rights.” King Muhammad has taken the dramatic step of establishing a fund to compensate individuals whose human rights have been violated in the past. He has spoken eloquently about the rights of women and the disabled and has expressed concern about the plight of the unemployed.

King Muhammad has continued the process of reform but, the United States understands that for these reforms to work and for Morocco to continue to advance, more must be done to assist Morocco’s economic development plan. Unemployment is still to high and the educated young still have difficulty finding work.

Albright, for example, acknowledged King Muhammad’s “important steps to improve economic conditions by privatizing industry and examining possibilities for agricultural reform.” High on the agenda of this state visit’s bilateral discussions were efforts to promote U.S. investments in Morocco’s economy.

For their part, the Moroccan business community is planning a follow-up visit to the United States. During that time, they will propose investment projects to potential American partners–the total investment sought for all the proposed projects is $2 billion.

Beyond the discussions of “shared history and common values and interests” and plans for economic partnership, there were also serious discussions about political concerns.

Morocco has pledged to work with the UN effort headed by former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker to resolve the issue of the Sahara. In his public remarks, King Muhammad pointedly referred to the region as Morocco’s “southern province” but he also reiterated his nation’s commitment to seeking “a just and lasting solution” in cooperation with the international effort.

Many observers were impressed that in all of his formal and public remarks (and it has been reported, in his private discussions as well), King Muhammad stressed the importance of resolving the Middle East conflict. He noted that Israel should withdraw from all occupied territories, and that a “fully sovereign Palestinian state” with Jerusalem as its capital should be established.

In this context it should be noted that Morocco’s special relationship with the United States and its commitment to the Middle East peace process extends to a special relationship with the U.S.’s Arab American and American Jewish communities. The King’s meetings with these two communities were another highlight of his state visit.

Israeli and American Jews have long sought to deepen ties with Morocco, in part due to the substantial Moroccan Jewish community in Israel and because of Morocco’s record for openness and tolerance.

Arab Americans, on the other hand, have only recently begun to develop strong ties with Morocco. In part, because there has been no Moroccan American component to the Arab American community (most Moroccan emigrants have gone to Europe), Arab Americans have had little experience with that country. Morocco’s current Foreign Minister Muhammad Benaissa, when he served as Ambassador to Washington, actively sought out the Arab American community. By working with Arab Americans on Moroccan-related issues and educating them on Moroccan concerns, he succeeded in broadening both the base of Morocco’s support in the United States and the political awareness of Arab Americans.

This process has been supported as well, by the U.S.’s current Ambassador to Morocco, Edward Gabriel, an Arab American. He too has been a strong advocate for U.S.-Moroccan ties and has played a role in encouraging Arab Americans to become more engaged on Moroccan issues. Further evidence of this deepening Arab American interest and involvement has been the formation of the US-Moroccan Affairs Committee (USMAC) headed by Saba Shami, an Arab American activist. In 1999, USMAC won the endorsement of 110 members of Congress in support of Morocco. Working with the National Council on US-Arab Relations, USMAC has sponsored visits to Morocco for members of Congress, educators and Arab American leaders.

In an effort to continue its role as a bridge builder, the Moroccan leadership is currently examining an idea to host a joint meeting of Arab American and American Jewish leaders in order to foster a dialogue between the two communities.

Looking back on the many facets of the state visit, some observations must be made.

The warmth and praise with which the United States greeted Morocco is based not only on history, but current realities as well. There is a genuine appreciation America has for the country and its role in the broader region and for its King and his goals for reform.

What must now occur, however, is that the warmth of the greeting and the expansiveness of the full state visit, should be translated into concrete support. The President noted the establishment of a new scholarship program to enhance educational opportunities for Moroccan students, and Secretaries Albright and Cohen both spoke of new programs of support from expanded food assistance to closer military ties.

But, as King Muhammad has noted, Morocco needs investment partnerships more than aid. For Morocco to continue to advance on its chosen path, it will need the help of its friends. As one prominent Moroccan businessman noted the current level of trade and investment between the two countries “does not rise to the level of our strong political bilateral ties.” In this regard, the recent state visit could be an important step in consolidating those friendships and advancing an agenda for the future.

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