Foreign relations of Mauritania
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The foreign relations of The Islamic Republic of Mauritania have been dominated since independence by the issues of the Spanish Sahara (now Western Sahara or Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic) as well as recognition of its independence by its neighbours, particularly Morocco. Mauritania's foreign relations are handled by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, and the incumbent foreign minister is Ahmed Ould Teguedi.
Mauritania became independent with the help of France in 1960. However, it did not join the United Nations until 1961 due to an initial veto by the Soviet Union. The Arab League disapproved of Mauritanian independence due to Morocco's ambitions for Mauritania. Eventually, Mauritania was admitted to the United Nations in 1961 in response by the Soviet Union to a favorable vote for Mongolia's admission in the same year. Mauritania did initially support France in Northwest Africa to counterbalance Morocco's ambition. By 1962, however, Mauritania turned away from wholesale support of France and began normalizing relations with its neighbors, eventually establishing diplomatic relations with Mali in 1963 through the Treaty of Kayes, Algeria and the United Arab Republic (Egypt and Syria) in 1964. In 1963, Mauritania joined the Organization of African Unity (OAU), which then caused Morocco to resign (Morocco did not recognize Mauritania until 1969). At this point, Mauritania, encouraged by the OAU and the Arab League, did not seek diplomatic relations with Apartheid South Africa, Israel or Portugal. Today, however, Mauritania has normalized relations with South Africa and Portugal, with the downfall of the Apartheid system in South Africa as well as the retreat from colonialism in Portugal.
Claims to Western Sahara territory
In 1976, when Spain withdrew from the Western Sahara, Mauritania annexed a third of it. Upon this, both Algeria and Morocco withdrew their ambassadors from Mauritania. The rebel Polisario group began raids on Mauritania in 1976 and lasted until 1979 when Mauritania withdrew its claims from the Western Sahara and recognized the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) as the sovereign government of the Western Sahara territory, though Morocco took control of the SADR because of Mauritania's withdrawal. Since this time, Mauritania has declared neutrality in the dispute, seeking a peaceful and expedient end to the conflict; diplomatic relations with Algeria and Morocco have resumed.
Suspension of African Union membership
Following a military coup d'état in 2005, Mauritania's membership in the African Union was suspended "until the restoration of constitutional order in the country". This left Mauritania diplomatically isolated within Africa, as it left Mauritania the only country on the African continent except Morocco without full membership in the African Union.
In March 2007 democratic rule was restored in Mauritania, with presidential elections declared "free and fair" by international observers, though after the 2008 coup membership was once again suspended.
Relations by country
People's Republic of China
The government of Mauritania enjoys close ties with the government of the People's Republic of China. Diplomatic relations were opened in 1965, and the governments remain on good terms. In recent years, they have signed a series of agreements and exchanged a series of diplomatic gestures that have strengthened their relationship.
The Chinese government has recently shown particular interest in Mauritania's oil deposits. Oil production in Mauritania began in February 2006, and by May of the same year the Chinese and Mauritanian governments signed an agreement on social and economic cooperation. In October 2006, the state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation began drilling oil wells in Mauritania, and has three other prospecting permits in Mauritania. The Mauritanian government sees oil production as a significant means of boosting economic growth.
During the campaign for Mauritania's presidential elections in March 2007, candidate Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi praised Mauritania's growing ties with China, promising to "continue the path of strengthening the bilateral relations with all my efforts". As Abdallahi won the election and is now the President-elect of Mauritania, it is expected that Mauritania's relationship with China will continue to grow.
The relations date back to the colonial era when Mauritania was part of French West Africa.
Most of Mauritania's developmental assistance in the 1980s was provided by France, which was also the major supplier of private direct investment. Bilateral accords signed with France in 1961 provided for economic, financial, technical, cultural, and military cooperation and aid. Although Mauritania opposed France on Algerian independence, nuclear testing in the Sahara, and French arms sales to South Africa, ties remained cordial through the Daddah term. French citizens worked in Mauritania as technical assistants in the government, administrators, teachers, and judges. Daddah frequently traveled to France, and French development aid flowed to Mauritania. The level of French involvement rose markedly following the outbreak of hostilities in the Western Sahara. Between 1976 and 1979, when Mauritania unilaterally declared peace and withdrew from combat, French aircraft provided air support for Mauritanian troops fighting Polisario forces, and French paratroops were stationed at Nouadhibou.
Activity by Mauritanian dissidents in France, together with Mauritania's gradual policy shift toward the Polisario, resulted in a growing coolness toward Paris. In May 1979, Mauritania asked France to remove its troops from Nouadhibou. France continued to provide a high level of financial aid, although less than requested by the Haidalla government, and this curtailment further strained ties. Following alleged accusations of Moroccan support of a coup attempt in March 1981, Haidalla again turned to France to obtain guarantees of Mauritania's territorial integrity. French president Georges Pompidou and Haidalla concluded an accord in 1981, as Morocco threatened to carry the struggle against Polisario guerrillas into Mauritanian territory. As Morocco's advancing sand walls increasingly obligated Polisario guerrillas to use Mauritania as a staging area, President Haidalla and, later, President Taya sought and received guarantees of French support in August 1984 and June 1987.
Mauritania declared war on Israel as a result of the 1967 Six-Day War, following the Arab League's collective decision (Mauritania was not admitted to the League until November 1973), and did not reverse that declaration until at least 1991 and, seemingly, for some 32 years in about early-mid-1999. Israelis were seemingly oblivious to the ongoing state of war.
Little public information exists, and it must be inferred from:
- behind the scenes meetings between Mauritania and Israel in 1995 and 1996 said to be at the instigation of Mauritania's President Ould Taya;
- the establishment of unofficial "interest sections" in the respective Spanish embassies in 1996 in the two capital cities, leading to;
- the exchange of diplomatic representatives in each other's countries from 27 October 1999;
that Mauritania had reversed its declaration by then.
In 1999 Mauritania became one of three members of the Arab League to recognize Israel as a sovereign state (the others being Egypt and Jordan). This recognition was given by former president Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya along with his cooperation with United States anti-terrorism activities. The establishment of full diplomatic relations was signed in Washington DC on October 28, 1999. After the coup by the Military Council for Justice and Democracy in August 2005, recognition of Israel was maintained.
As a response to the conflict in the Gaza Strip, relations were frozen with Israel in January 2009. In February 2009, Mauritania recalled its ambassador from Israel, and on 6 March 2009 staff were evicted from the Israeli embassy in Nouakchott, and given 48 hours to leave Mauritania. Israel officially closed the embassy later in the day, according to an announcement by its Foreign Affairs Ministry. By 21 March 2010 all diplomatic relations between the two states had officially come to an end.
Since Mauritania negotiated a boundary dispute with Mali in 1963, ties between the two countries have been mostly cordial. Mali and Mauritania have cooperated on several development projects, such as the OMVS and a plan to improve roads between Nouakchott and Bamako. This cooperation somewhat lessened Mali's dependence on Senegal and Côte d'Ivoire. Although relations were warm with other black African states, since 1965 the orientation of Mauritania's foreign policy has been geared towards relations with North African countries.
Prior to the December 1984 coup that brought Taya to power, the Mauritanian-Moroccan cooperation agency stated that relations between the two countries were on the mend in spite of alleged Moroccan complicity in a 1981 coup attempt and Mauritania's subsequent turn toward Algeria. Representatives from both sides initiated a series of low-level contacts that led to a resumption of diplomatic ties in April 1985. For Mauritania, the détente with Morocco promised to end the threat of Moroccan incursions, and it also removed the threat of Moroccan support for opposition groups formed during the Haidalla presidency. Through the agreement with Mauritania, Morocco sought to tighten its control over the Western Sahara by denying the Polisario one more avenue for infiltrating guerrillas into the disputed territory.
Relations between Morocco and Mauritania continued to improve through 1986, reflecting President Taya's pragmatic, if unstated, view that only a Moroccan victory over the Polisario would end the guerrilla war in the Western Sahara. Taya made his first visit to Morocco in October 1985 (prior to visits to Algeria and Tunisia) in the wake of Moroccan claims that Polisario guerrillas were again traversing Mauritanian territory. The completion of a sixth berm just north of Mauritania's crucial rail link along the border with the Western Sahara, between Nouadhibou and the iron ore mines, complicated relations between Mauritania and Morocco. Polisario guerrillas in mid-1987 had to traverse Mauritanian territory to enter the Western Sahara, a situation that invited Morocco's accusations of Mauritanian complicity. Moreover, any engagements near the sixth berm would threaten to spill over into Mauritania and jeopardize the rail link.
In the years following independence, Mauritania's principal friend in sub-Saharan Africa was Senegal, although the two countries have espoused different strategies for development. The growing split between blacks and Maures in Mauritania has, however, affected ties with Senegal, which sees itself as championing the rights of Mauritania's black minority. Under Taya, relations between the two countries were correct, even though each accused the other of harboring exiled dissidents. In May 1987, Senegal extradited Captain Moulaye Asham Ould Ashen, a former black member of the Haidalla government accused of corruption, but only after veiled threats from Nouakchott that failure to do so would result in Mauritania's allowing Senegalese dissidents a platform from which to speak out against the government of President Abdou Diouf. At the same time, Senegal and Mauritania have cooperated successfully with Mali under the Senegal River Development Office (Organisation pour la Mise en Valeur du Fleuve Sénégal—OMVS), which was formed in 1972 as a flood control, irrigation, and agricultural development project.
The U.S. Government fully supports Mauritania's transition to democracy, and congratulates Mauritania on the successful series of 2006-2007 parliamentary and presidential elections. The U.S. condemned the August 2005 coup and the unconstitutional assumption of power by the Military Council for Justice and Democracy, and called for a return to a constitutional government through free and fair elections as soon as possible. The United States provided election-related assistance for voter education, political party training, and democracy building. The U.S. now aims to work with the Mauritanian Government to expand bilateral cooperation in the areas of food security, health, education, security, strengthening democratic institutions, and counterterrorism.
- Morocco, United States Department of State.
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- Map of African Union, African Union.
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- Amos Oz interview with Phillip Adams, 10 September 1991, re-broadcast on ABC Radio National 23 December 2011
- The encyclopedia of the Arab-Israeli conflict: a political, social, and military history, Volume 1 A-H, Spencer Tucker, ABC-CLIO Inc, 2008, p127, accessed 25 December 2011
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