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France seeks reconciliation with Morocco

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French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné is set to meet with his Moroccan counterpart, Nasser Bourita, in Rabat on Monday in an effort to mend diplomatic relations between the two countries after a series of crises.

Stéphane Séjourné

French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné is set to meet with his Moroccan counterpart, Nasser Bourita, in Rabat on Monday in an effort to mend diplomatic relations between the two countries after a series of crises.

The meeting between the two ministers will be followed by a working lunch, as confirmed by a diplomatic source on Sunday.

"This visit marks a significant step towards opening a new chapter in the relationship between our two countries," emphasized the same source.

Stéphane Séjourné, expected to arrive in Rabat on Sunday evening, has already indicated that he has been "personally" tasked by President Emmanuel Macron to work towards reconciliation with Morocco. In recent years, tensions have escalated between Morocco and France, the former colonial power where a large Moroccan diaspora resides.

In Rabat, France's decision in September 2021 to halve visa issuance for Moroccans was met with strong criticism. Additionally, France's policy of rapprochement with Algeria, while Algiers severed diplomatic relations with Rabat in 2021, deeply irritated Morocco.

On the French side, there was discontent over revelations from the Forbidden Stories media consortium alleging that in 2019, Moroccan authorities targeted phone numbers belonging to Emmanuel Macron and ministers using the Israeli spyware Pegasus. Rabat denied the allegations. A vote by the European Parliament in January 2023 condemning the deterioration of press freedom in Morocco further strained diplomatic tensions.

In September, a new controversy arose when France offered assistance to Morocco following an earthquake, which Rabat ignored. Relations seemed to be at an impasse until the French ambassador to Morocco publicly apologized in November, and a Moroccan ambassador to France was appointed after months of vacancy, initiating a thaw in relations.

Stéphane Séjourné's visit is a first step towards working "for a new political agenda, in all areas, focusing on common priorities," indicated the diplomatic source. Paris also promises to stand "alongside Morocco on the most sensitive issues."

France is expected to address the Western Sahara issue - a "national cause" for Morocco. 

On Monday, French President's wife, Brigitte Macron, welcomed the sisters of Morocco's King Mohammed VI at the Elysée Palace, a gesture particularly appreciated in Morocco.

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