September 29, 2022

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Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita at a Joint Press Availability

29 min read

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Rabat, Morocco

Ministry of Foreign Affairs

FOREIGN MINISTER BOURITA:  (Via interpreter)  Dear Secretary of State the U.S., like to extend a warm welcome to him to Morocco.  We are all pleased and glad to meet him in our – in his – the first official state meeting of Secretary of State in the current administration to Morocco.  Welcome to you, sir.

As per the vision of His Majesty King Mohammed VI, the Moroccan-U.S. relations have always been longstanding and based on longstanding partnership that’s quite ambitious and developed, also grounded on personal relation between His Majesty King Mohammed VI and President Joe Biden since their meeting in Marrakesh back in 2016.

With Mr. Secretary of State we met yesterday in Negev, in Israel, to talk about how to support positive dynamics in the Middle East.  We are convening today also today as part of our endeavor to further strengthen our relations.  In May, we’ll convene again as part of the Global Alliance and Coalition Against ISIS and to support our joint endeavors to fight extremism and terrorism worldwide.  In June, Morocco and the U.S. will hold African Lion maneuvers.  That’s one of the major parts of our military cooperation.  In July, we will also host the Economic American-African Forum in Marrakesh.  All this testifies to the richness of our U.S. and Moroccan relations.

Thanks to their variety and diversity, this covers the political side, the security side, the military side, the economic side.  This is a partnership that goes back – our bilateral relations – to cover other areas like the Middle East, Africa, and other parts of the world.  Our relations are strong.  Our partnership is strong, grounded on mutual shared values, shared interests, grounded also on a shared vision around a number of international issues and regional issues.

His Majesty the King wants to make sure that these relations move forward as part of the tools and mechanisms that we all have.  The Strategic Dialogue and we held two weeks ago around with Lady Wendy Sherman.  Also dialogue on human rights, and we held two rounds earlier.  The FTA, that is the only U.S. agreement with an African country which has resulted in very positive outcomes in terms of developing and promoting our trade relations.  And we hope this will also play a key role in moving forward with the U.S. investments in Morocco.

As part of the MCC also, which has been a contribution, an important contribution to the endeavor of Morocco and also as part of tools for security and military cooperation.  This cooperation has always been strong and very productive, resulting in many initiatives between the U.S. and Morocco.  Today, we have talked around all these issues and how to further develop our mutual relation’s and bilateral relations so this partnership can be strong and modeled based on historical values, and also in line with the current ambitions and values.

We have talked about different challenges in Middle East, and we’d like to thank the U.S. as a party to the three-party agreement signed before His Majesty back in January – in December 2022, where Morocco has relaunched its relations with Israel.  This agreement has resulted in positive outcomes, and we can – this can also yield more fruits as part of concrete project that are beneficial to the Moroccan and Israeli peoples.  But the three-party agreement – Israel, U.S., and Morocco – is also a message and a sign for the need of a two-state solution, steady solution, in the Middle East by setting up free states which Jerusalem as a capital, living and coexisting with Israel.  And as part of the vision of His Majesty the King, Jerusalem can be a city for coexistence.

We have talked also about our partnership in Africa to face up to the different challenges and also to make profit of the many opportunities we have in Africa economically, in terms of trade, and also in terms of climate changes, and also in the area of trade and infrastructures, and also in terms of security and healthcare and military.  Africa is fertile land for U.S.-Moroccan cooperation.  And also the North Africa and Sahel, there are many challenge; there are many tensions that have to be addressed.  And also there are many security-related challenges that need to be addressed positively and constructively.

I think your visit, Tony, is very important and that has produced clear messages about this cooperation, the many possibilities we can actually profit from here to the benefit for our two countries, but also to the benefit of security and stability and development in areas that we consider to be very important to us and to you.  Once again, thank you for your visit, and you’re most welcome.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Foreign Minister, Nasser, thank you.  It’s really good to be with you once again.  It feels like it was only yesterday.

Indeed, we just came from the historic Negev Summit, and together with our partners from Bahrain, from Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Israel, we discussed, as Nasser said, a wide range of areas where we can seize on normalization to make a positive impact on the lives of our people.  It’s an effort that quite simply would not have been possible were it not for the courage and vision of leaders like His Majesty King Mohammed VI to break down longstanding barriers.  And I’m committed to working with the foreign minister and all our friends here and across the region to make this vision real, translating it into more opportunities for people and further widening the circle of friendship.

Now, while integration among some of these countries is new, the diplomatic relationship between Morocco and the United States dates back more than 240 years, and its depth and breadth are reflected in everything we discussed today, and Nasser touched on a lot of these issues.  For more than 15 years, our free trade agreement has benefited people and companies in both of our countries and beyond.  Today, we discussed how we can continue to grow our economic cooperation in particular to benefit underserved populations.

For example, we’re in the fifth and final year of what is a $460 million compact administrated by the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation.  That’s provided jobs and education opportunities for young people, boosted agricultural productivity, expanded land rights for women.  The compact includes a partnership with Morocco’s Ministry of Education that is piloting a model aimed at improving secondary education in 90 secondary schools across the country, training some 6,000 teachers and administrators, making investments in the schools’ infrastructure and in its technology.

Just last week, our officials came together and broke ground on a major expansion of the industrial zone in Bouznika, backed by a public-private partnership, and that is expected to generate some 4,000 jobs.

Partners show up for each other in difficult times, and as Morocco experiences one of the worst droughts in decades, we’re doing what we can to help.  Now, I tried to do what I could to help by bringing a little rain with me today – (laughter) – but that’s clearly not enough.  We have experts from the State Department and the Department of the Interior consulting directly with their Moroccan counterparts on immediate steps to diminish the drought’s impact and to increase water conversation.

Tomorrow, we’re hosting a conference in Casablanca that will bring together your top water management companies with some experts from the United States to focus on how this country can better produce, use, and conserve its water resources.  And going back long before this drought, we’d been working to build greater capacity in the country to try to predict, prepare for, and mitigate the worst impacts of droughts, and to train rising generations of Moroccan water management experts.  The drought’s already affected agricultural production, we know raising the cost of food.

Now, the natural disaster is being worsened by a manmade disaster, as the Russian Government and its brutal war in Ukraine has disrupted the supply of wheat and other commodities.  Here, across the region, we’re discussing concrete steps we can take and our partners can take to help reduce the impact of these shortages, particularly on the most vulnerable populations.  This disruption is another reason we’ll continue to urge our friends and partners to speak out with one voice in condemning the Russian Government’s aggression – the consequences of which are being felt around the world – and hold the Kremlin accountable for as long as this continues.

The increasing frequency and severity of droughts and other extreme weather here, in the United States, around the world also underscores the urgency of our collective efforts to address the climate crisis.  And in this, Morocco is a world leader, setting an ambitious target of achieving 63 percent renewable energy by 2035.  With 45 percent of the country’s electricity production already coming from renewables, Morocco is on track to meet this ambitious target and even exceed it.  Morocco also signed the Global Methane Pledge at COP26, and at COP22, the kingdom founded three African-wide commissions – the Congo Basin Commission, the Sahel Commission, the Small Island Nations Commission – and continues to lead climate finance and feasibility studies for all three of them.

We’ve also worked side by side in combating the COVID-19 pandemic.  We’ve been able to donate more than 2.5 million safe, effective vaccines to Morocco through the COVAX Initiative over the last several months alone.  And since the outset of the pandemic, we’ve been working closely with the Moroccan Ministry of Health and other partners to train health workers, provide PPE and essential lab equipment, and enhance Morocco’s vaccine cold chain, all of which has helped contribute to a very effective response, led by His Majesty, to COVID here in Morocco.  And Morocco is also now contributing to the efforts that other countries are making, something we greatly appreciated.

We launched a $3 million partnership with the Pasteur Institute of Morocco to strengthen global health security capacity so that we can prepare for, respond to, and deal with infectious disease in the future.  We support King Mohammed VI’s ambitious reform agenda to strengthen Morocco’s institutions and ensure government is responsive to the Moroccan people.  The United States is committed to working with Morocco to make concrete progress in key areas, advancing the right to freedom of expression and association, criminal justice reforms, women’s rights and gender equality, government transparency, which the foreign minister and I had an opportunity to discuss today.

We also discussed security.  The United States recognizes the important role that Morocco plays in maintaining regional security and stability, as well as its contribution to peace and prosperity in the region.  We’re collaborating closely on addressing regional issues like the Sahel and Libya, the fight against terrorism, where Morocco has demonstrated sustained leadership to the Global Counterterrorism Forum and the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.  We very much support the work of the United Nations Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General Stefan de Mistura in leading the political process for Western Sahara, under the auspices of the United Nations, to promote a peaceful and prosperous future for the people of Western Sahara and the region.  And we appreciate Morocco’s support for this mission.  We continue to view Morocco’s Autonomy Plan as serious, credible, and realistic, and one potential approach to meet the aspirations of the people of Western Sahara.

Let me just conclude by wishing an early Ramadan Kareem to the people of Morocco and around the world who will celebrate the holy month starting in just a few days.  And I wish our Moroccan friends – I shouldn’t say this – I’m going to wish you good luck in the World Cup qualifying match.  That’s not fair to the other side.  If we wish both sides good luck, it will wind up in a tie, but that’s good for Morocco.

So Nasser, thank you for hosting us.  Thank you for your leadership.  Thank you for your friendship.

MODERATOR:  (In Arabic.)

Now, questions for the press.  We’ll take the first one from Fadwa Mrabti, Al Ghad TV.

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter)  Good afternoon.  Fadwa Mrabti from Al Ghad channel.  His Majesty Mohammed VI is president of Al-Quds Committee, and Morocco has been playing historical roles in terms of Palestinian cause today after resuming relations with Israel.  How does the U.S. administration see the role that Morocco can play in moving forward with the negotiations with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian issue, especially that Morocco hangs on to its position of two-state solution and the right of the Palestinians to have a free, independent state with Jerusalem as its capital?  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you very much.

First, I was just in Israel before the meeting that we had together in the Negev.  I was in Jerusalem and also in Ramallah.  And one of the points that I made in both Jerusalem with Israeli counterparts, in Ramallah with President Abbas, is of course the United States continued, ongoing support for a two-state solution, an outcome that would meet the aspirations of the Palestinian people and their entitlement to a state of their own, as well as, of course, ensuring the security of Israel and its strength as a Jewish and democratic state.

The normalization agreements and the work that Morocco and other countries are doing with Israel is not a substitute for this outcome, for two states.  But it can, I believe, reinforce it.  In our discussions yesterday in the Negev, all of the partners in this enterprise, including Morocco, including the United States, talked about the need to advance that prospect and that horizon, but in the meantime to do concrete things to help improve the lives of Palestinians.  And this is exactly one of the things that the work we’re doing through the partnership that now exists among the countries that participated in the Negev Summit, that’s exactly one of the things that we’re focused on.  And we were talking in very concrete ways about initiatives that we can undertake together to improve the lives of the Palestinian people.

At the same time, I think that Morocco’s growing relationship with Israel, as well as that of other countries, will further strengthen its voice, as well as their own voice, in trying to advance the prospect of two states and improving the lives of Palestinians day in, day out.

MR PRICE:   Our first question will go to Conor Finnegan, ABC News.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Mr. Foreign Minister, on the Abraham Accords, the previous U.S. administration had pledged to open a consulate in Western Sahara, and yet this administration has so far not taken any steps to follow through on that.  Are you concerned that the U.S. will not meet that commitment?  And when you reference the Negev Summit, can you be more specific?  What kinds of concrete steps is Morocco willing to take to deepen ties with Israel?

And Mr. Secretary, Russian and Ukrainian delegations met today in Turkey.  You have been skeptical of talks with Russia so far during this war, but both sides are now openly discussing the potential terms of an agreement.  So yes or no – do you believe that Russia is now engaging in genuine dialogue?  The Ukrainian side has also said that any agreement must involve security guarantees by third countries.  Will the U.S. get involved in talks, including by providing security guarantees?  And the Ukrainian foreign minister specifically warned today to his delegation before the meetings to not eat, drink, or touch anything during the talks.  Do you have any comment on the recent reports of a potential poisoning, and do you have any concern for the negotiators’ safety?  Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER BOURITA:  (Via interpreter)  With regard to the first part of your question, obviously, the three-party agreement is definitely an important document that’s created dynamics in terms of relations with Israel but also in terms of promoting relations in different aspects with the U.S.  Morocco is definitely confident that Moroccan and U.S. relations are strong – tense, but moving forward in the right direction.  We are fully confident that all aspects pertaining to the three-party agreement signed in December 2020 can be applicable as part of agreements and also as part of the timing that different parties deem relevant and appropriate.

But the position of the U.S. with regard to the autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty is firm and stable under different administrations, and we have heard that again today.  Autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty is the only solution supported by the U.S. and by other countries, and you have also seen recently Spain and Germany joining and other African and Arab countries.  They all go along the same direction.  So we are all fully confident that their positions are moving forward, are continuing, and the implementation of that hedges on different constellations that we can perhaps talk about between us directly.

Now regarding the second part of your question, the Moroccan and Israel relations are very special.  From – based on the long and strong relations between the kings of Morocco and the Moroccan Jewish people that’s considered a big chunk of the Israeli population.  This is part that in – this is a part that enriches this relation.  Since the signing of the three-party agreement, a number of things have happened since then in terms of visits, agreements, direct airlines, and also different delegations coming in, and also visits of different officials.

The next step, as Antony said, should go directly to concrete projects that businesspeople can feel, that citizens can feel and see in both countries.  This – His Majesty talked about a choice based on conviction, its natural choice.  This natural choice based on conviction should also be strengthened and fortified by concrete projects, by projects visible to the citizens in agriculture, in use of water, in security, stability, and so on and so forth.  So this is what can actually give this relation more strength.

Two weeks ago, we saw visit of Moroccan businesspeople to Israel where they had direct meetings with their counterparts, so how can we invest in this economic field so we can sign more agreements on the Qualified Industrial Zones?  This can be a three-party – three-party cooperation area for different parties to generate more opportunities and development for everybody.  So this relationship has been moving forward, has been moving forward with still a lot of opportunities in the future.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Conor, thank you.  First on the talks, I would leave it to our Ukrainian partners to characterize whether there is any genuine progress and whether Russia is engaging meaningfully.

What I can say is this:  There is what Russia says and there is what Russia does.  We’re focused on the latter, and what Russia is doing is the continued brutalization of Ukraine and its people, and that continues as we speak.  As a result of this aggression committed by Russia, as I mentioned the other day, fully half of the children in Ukraine have been displaced from their homes – half of the children.  And, of course, we’ve seen what is going on in Mariupol, among other places.

So we’re focused on what Russia does.  And what it should do is end the aggression now, stop firing, pull its forces back, and, of course, engage in talks.  The fact that the Ukrainians are – have the extraordinary courage and willingness and determination not only to stand up for their country and their futures, but to engage in these talks with a gun literally to their head, I think speaks volumes.  But I would look to them to characterize whether there’s any – anything meaningfully coming.

If there is some kind of outcome, and if our support for Ukraine can be part of that outcome –including our support in the future for its defense and security – of course that’s something we’ll want to pursue.  But again, from what I’ve – I have not seen anything that suggests that this is moving forward in an effective way, because Russia – at least we have not seen signs of real seriousness, but if Ukraine concludes that there is, that’s good and we support that.

As to the stories about the poisoning, I don’t have any details on that.  I’ve seen the reports. What I can say is that, of course, this raises concerns because Russia has a real track record, and you only have to go as far back as the poisonings in the UK, Navalny, and others to see why concerns would certainly be understandable.

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter)  Shakir Allaoui, 360.

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter)  My question is for the two ministers.  The United Kingdom is organizing in Marrakesh a summit for Africa.  How could Morocco become a platform to further develop this relationship with African countries?

FOREIGN MINISTER BOURITA:  (Via interpreter)  As I said, our relations have regional ramifications.  What you are doing in our bilateral relations is productive and beneficial to our two countries, to our two peoples, our two economies.  But this also got other repercussions regionally.

In terms of the economic effects, you know how much His Majesty hands-on to Africa to achieve stability there and development.  Africa is not a burden now for the international community; it’s an opportunity for the international community.  There are many opportunities and big potentials in Africa.  Africa has proven even during COVID some kind of resilience before the economic effects of the pandemic.  Africa – its clout lies in its young population.  It is the only part of the world where you have 30 million individuals that on annual basis join the middle class.  This is unprecedented.  This is not seen in other parts of the world.  This by itself, in itself, an economic potential.

Africa has got a lot of potential of infrastructures, renewable resources, technologies, and so on and so forth.  Africa is an opportunity.  That’s why Morocco has developed its relations thank to the vision – with Africa thanks to the vision of His Majesty the king.  Morocco is heavily present in Africa.  It’s the second investor – African investor in Africa.  So how can we cooperate with our American partners?  We are the only ones having an FTA with the U.S. in Africa.  Africa now is creating (inaudible) free trade agreement in Africa.  So how can we use our bilateral FTA as a platform to get to Africa jointly?  We have a joint vision on development and stability and prosperity in Africa.  So how can the U.S. (inaudible) from Morocco or based on a partnership with Morocco can actually expand into Africa, especially in its western part and central part?

All these are potentials that we need to talk about within the (inaudible) to be held in July.

This is the vocation for Morocco, to be a bridge between partners and Africa.  That’s what we’re going to do in this economic forum in July.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  I think Nasser said it extremely well, and I would add simply that I think the – and we had a long conversation about this actually just today, about how we can work together more effectively in Africa, building on what we’re already doing.  We already have a strong security partnership when it comes to dealing with security challenges in Africa, but we want to make sure as well that we are dealing with some of the challenges that are also opportunities in building stronger global health, including in Africa, in addressing the climate challenge.

And again, Morocco is a leader on this, but we can bring some of that leadership and expertise together in Africa in pursuing infrastructure projects and in creating opportunities for young people throughout the continent.  These are all the kinds of things that we’ll be talking about in a couple of months, but we already talked about today.

But I think it’s evidence of something very powerful in this relationship.  We have a strong bilateral relationship.  We work on many things directly together in the interests of both our people.  We also have a strong regional partnership that you see translated in the work that we’re doing throughout the region.  But increasingly as well, it’s truly global, because when we’re working together on things like dealing with pandemics or dealing with climate change, these are of global consequence.

And as a result, Morocco is really and truly a partner on the global stage for us.  It’s a partnership we value deeply, and this is exactly why we’ve spent so much time today talking about how to deepen it, how to pursue it not only between ourselves, but in different parts of the world, and notably, Africa.

MR PRICE:  Our second question goes to Humeyra Pamuk of Reuters.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Hello, Mr. Secretary, Foreign Minister.

Mr. Secretary, just to quickly follow up on Ukraine, Russian deputy defense minister said Moscow has decided to fundamentally cut back military activity in the direction of Kyiv and Chernihiv.  Do you see this statement as a major shift in Russia’s invasion?  Has the United States over the last few days observed Russia shift its military focus from Kyiv to Donbas?

And separately, you will meet with Abu Dhabi crown prince later today.  It is no secret that the relationship with the UAE as well as Saudi Arabia is at a difficult place.  They snub America’s calls to increase oil production.  They’ve done little to help Ukraine.  What concrete ideas are you bringing to this meeting to put the relationship back on track, and are you hopeful that it will?

Mr. Foreign Minister, very quickly, earlier this month, Spain said it was backing Morocco’s autonomy proposals for Western Sahara.  Do you see any other EU states following suit?  And also, your country, along with several others in the Middle East, haven’t been very vocal for its support of Ukraine.  You haven’t showed up in the United Nations vote either.  Why aren’t you more critical of Russia?  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you, Humeyra.  Two things.  First, with regard to the statements that —

PARTICIPANT:  (Laughter.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I’m sorry, what did we miss?  No?

With regard to the statements on Russia’s aggression, I come back to what I said a few minutes ago, which is that we’re focused on what they do, not on what they say.  And so I can’t tell you whether these statements reflect some reorientation of the aggression to focus only on – “only,” in quotation marks, eastern and southern Ukraine, or whether this is a means by which Russia once again is trying to deflect and deceive people into thinking it’s doing – it’s not doing what it is doing, whether it’s simply trying to regroup, given the heavy losses that it’s suffered.  I don’t know.  So we’re focused on what they do.

I would add that if they somehow believe that an effort to subjugate “only,” in quotation marks, the eastern part of Ukraine or – and the southern part of Ukraine can succeed, then once again, they are profoundly fooling themselves.  They’re – we’ve seen the will and the determination of the Ukrainian people to determine their own future, not to have Russia or anyone else determine it for them.  And so I think that will would continue to be expressed one way or another in all parts of the country.

With regard to my meeting later today with the crown prince, it’s fortuitous that we have this opportunity to take advantage of our presence here to spend some time together.  I’m very much looking forward to it.  We’ll have an opportunity to have a truly strategic conversation about the full range of issues that we’re working on together, regionally, globally.

And I’ll have more to say, no doubt, about that tomorrow, but this is an important strategic relationship and partnership for the United States.  I’m really pleased to have the chance to sit down with him.  I was with the foreign minister for the last more than 24 hours in the Negev.  We had an opportunity to spend some time together, and of course we’re working very closely together not only in the context of the Negev Summit, but on so many other issues.

So more to say about that tomorrow, but I’m looking forward to it.

FOREIGN MINISTER BOURITA:  On the first question on Spain, of course, the letter of the prime minister of Spain to His Majesty expressing support to the Moroccan Autonomy Plan as the basis for any solution to the Sahara issue is a very positive development.  And we reacted and we welcome that – this development, and we consider that it is – as His Majesty said, it will open a new chapter in our bilateral relations.

The position of Spain is not an isolated one.  There is a dynamic at the international level in support of the Moroccan Autonomy Plan as a serious, credible outcome for this regional dispute.  This is the position of the United States, this is the position of Germany, this is the position of France, this is the position of the Arab countries, this is the position of the African countries, and others.  So that’s why we think it’s time for Europe mainly – and I said that before – to get out of this comfort zone where we – people are just supporting the process.  And supporting a process doesn’t mean supporting a solution.  You can be comfortable in saying yes, we support a process, and this process could last for decades.  What is important now and why there is this dynamic – and de Mistura is also part of this dynamic – is how to shift into an outcome-oriented effort.

And in this regard, in different areas of the world, there is a consensus that this solution should be within Moroccan sovereignty and within the Moroccan Autonomy Plan.  And we hope that other countries will follow to get out of this comfort zone and to be actor in finding a solution instead of being passive in supporting the status quo.

On Ukraine, Moroccan position is very clear and it has been expressed many times.  We are in favor of territorial integrity and national unity of Ukraine, as of all the member states of the United Nations.  We are against the use or the recourse to force in settling disputes.  We are in favor of constructive neighborhood relations, and we are in favor of dialogue and negotiation to solve issues.  This has been our position.  It is clear and it is in line with the UN Charter.  It is in line with the principles of international law in which we believe.

So this position has been expressed, and we had today the opportunity to discuss more details about that.  Thank you.

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