The Tricky Triangle

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Algeria suspended a decades-old cooperation treaty with Spain this week amid a fight over the disputed territory of Western Sahara, the Local Spain reported Thursday.

Algerian officials said they will suspend “the treaty of friendship, good neighborliness and co-operation” signed between the two countries in 2002. The deal aimed at promoting dialogue and cooperation on a number of political, economic and defense issues.

The decision centers on the status of Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony that is currently disputed between Morocco and the Polisario Front, an Algerian-backed movement that seeks independence of the territory.

Morocco has been fighting the Polisario Front since 1975 and currently controls 80 percent of the territory. In 2007, the North African country proposed a plan to offer limited autonomy to Western Sahara but insisted that it remains under Morocco’s sovereignty.

Spain had initially stayed neutral on the matter but in March, the government publicly backed Morocco’s proposal. The move came following a diplomatic row between Rabat and Madrid after a visit by Polisario leader Brahim Ghali to Spain for treatment for Covid-19.

Morocco responded to the visit by allowing thousands of migrants to enter Spain’s tiny North African enclave of Ceuta, a move seen as a way to pressure Madrid.

Algeria condemned Spain’s decision and said Wednesday that the move had been “in violation of its legal, moral and political obligations” toward Western Sahara.

The Spanish government said it regretted Algeria’s decision but issued a subtle warning to Morocco that Madrid “will not tolerate any use of the tragedy of illegal immigration as a means of pressure.”

The recent brouhaha highlights Spain’s precarious position in dealing with both North African countries: While Spain shares a border and strong economic ties with Morocco, it also relies on Algerian natural gas – a dependence that has become more acute following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and its use of gas as a bargaining chip.

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