Pompeo visits Morocco, discusses Iran

State Department official says Morocco-Israel relations did not come up during Secretary of State's visit to Rabat.

Ben Ariel,

Mike Pompeo
Mike Pompeo

The United States and Morocco discussed efforts to isolate Iran as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo paid a visit to the kingdom on Thursday, AFP reported, citing officials.

Pompeo had been due to have an audience with King Mohammed VI but the meeting was dropped, apparently after the top US diplomat extended a visit to Lisbon to see Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Pompeo, the highest-ranking US official to travel to Morocco since President Donald Trump's election, nevertheless said he saw progress on his half-day visit.

"We have a great relationship between our two countries," Pompeo said, according to AFP. "We make our people safer in each of our two countries."

Pompeo met his Moroccan counterpart Nasser Bourita to discuss the "threat" posed by Iran's attempts to "broaden its regional influence", as well as the conflicts in Libya and unrest across the Sahel region, Bourita said in a statement.

Pompeo’s visit to Morocco was announced last week and State Department officials at the time described Morocco as a "critical partner for us across the range of issues."

Both Morocco and the United States have had tense relations with Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution toppled the pro-Western shah, who was close to the palace in Rabat.

Last year, Morocco cut diplomatic ties with Iran, accusing Tehran of using its Lebanese terrorist ally Hezbollah to deliver weapons to the Polisario Front, which seeks independence for Western Sahara.

"This is one of the few meetings where we don't bring up Iran first," a State Department official told reporters on Pompeo's plane as he returned to Washington.

"They are the first ones to bring up their concern about the financing of terrorism, the presence -- or the influence -- of Hezbollah and of Iran in the region," the official added, calling Morocco "certainly quite hawkish".

While it has tense relations with Iran, Morocco by contrast has warming if quiet relations with Israel.

On Wednesday, reports in Israel said Netanyahu and Pompeo had discussed a possible normalizing of ties between Israel and Morocco.

A State Department official played down expectations on Thursday, saying that the issue did not come up during Pompeo's talks in Rabat.

In February, unconfirmed reports in Israel said Netanyahu held a secret meeting with Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

A month earlier, Moroccan media said talks were under way about a visit by Netanyahu to Morocco. Neither country commented on the reports.

Morocco and Israel announced the opening of bilateral liaison offices in 1994, but those offices were closed in 2000 due to the wave of violence known as the “Second Intifada”.

Morocco supported the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) unilateral move to gain observer status at the United Nations in 2012.

There remains a Jewish community in Morocco, though it is not as large as it once was, with only about 3,000 people of the once 250,000-strong Jewish community still living there.