AP NEWS

Morocco cuts ties with Iran over Sahara weapons dispute

May 1, 2018

A man walks past the embassy of Iran in Rabat, Morocco, Tuesday, May 1, 2018. Morocco will sever diplomatic ties with Iran over Tehran's support for the Polisario Front, a Western Sahara independence movement, the Moroccan foreign minister said on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Mosa'ab Elshamy)

RABAT, Morocco (AP) — Morocco severed relations with Iran Tuesday, accusing the Mideast country of providing funds, training and weapons to Polisario Front independence fighters in the disputed Western Sahara.

Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita said he spoke with his Iranian counterpart to officially end ties between the two countries. Morocco’s ambassador already has departed Tehran, while the Iranian Embassy in Morocco will be closed “immediately,” Bourita told reporters in Rabat.

He said Morocco obtained and verified proof that Iran-backed Lebanese militant movement Hezbollah has provided training and financial support to Polisario fighters since 2016. Last month, Hezbollah allegedly sent its first supply of weaponry to the Polisario, prompting Morocco’s decision to cut ties, Bourita said.

Iran’s government did not respond publicly to the diplomatic decision Tuesday.

Hezbollah called the allegation that it supported and trained the Polisario movement baseless. The group issued a statement admonishing Morocco for yielding to what it described as American, Israeli, and Saudi pressure.

Morocco’s decision to cut official ties comes amid other diplomatic tensions. Israel’s prime minister alleged Monday that Iranian leaders covered up a nuclear weapons program before signing a deal with world powers to limit Iran’s nuclear activity in 2015.

Bourita said Morocco’s move “has nothing to do with Iran’s nuclear activities.”

Morocco is sensitive about perceived threats to the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony that Morocco annexed in 1975. Morocco fought Polisario fighters until a U.N.-brokered cease-fire in 1991. U.N. peacekeepers still monitor the region, where tensions recently flared.

“I’ve had a long discussion with Iran’s foreign affairs minister to present him all the reasons that induced this decision. I have showed him the dates, locations of meetings and the names involved,” Bourita said.

He said Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was “in shock” after their discussion.

Bourita said the evidence Morocco has showed top officials from Hezbollah and Polisario met repeatedly in Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria through the mediation of an Iranian diplomat.

The collaboration between Polisario and Hezbollah intensified after Moroccan authorities last year arrested Lebanese businessman Kassim Tajeddine, who has been accused of money laundering and financing Hezbollah, the foreign minister said.

Morocco-Iran relations were only recently restored after years of dispute over Morocco’s support of Sunni-ruled Bahrain. Bourita insisted religious differences with Shiite-led Iran did not drive Tuesday’s action.

___

Phillip Issa in Beirut contributed to this report.

AP RADIO
Update hourly