US State Department
US State DepartmentiStock

The US State Department said on Thursday it began the process of setting up a US consulate in Western Sahara, after President Donald Trump’s administration this month recognized Morocco’s sovereignty over the region.

“Effective immediately, we are inaugurating a virtual presence post for Western Sahara, with a focus on promoting economic and social development, to be followed soon by a fully functioning consulate,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement quoted by Reuters.

“This virtual presence post will be managed by the US Embassy in Rabat,” Pompeo added. He further said that Washington would be continuing to support political negotiations to resolve  the issues between Morocco and the Polisario within the framework of Morocco’s autonomy plan. 

Trump agreed to recognize Morocco’s sovereignty over the Western Sahara as part of the deal in which Morocco became the fourth Arab country to normalize ties with Israel in the past four months.

The United States several weeks ago adopted a new official map of Morocco that includes Western Sahara.

The Polisario Front, which seeks independence for Western Sahara, has condemned "in the strongest terms the fact that outgoing American President Donald Trump attributes to Morocco something which does not belong" to the country.

The movement dismissed the announcement and vowed to fight on until Moroccan forces withdraw from all of Western Sahara.

The Morocco-Israel agreement was also condemned by the Hamas terrorist organization, which called it a "political mistake that does not serve the Palestinian issue and will encourage the occupation to continue to deny our people's rights."

Algeria, Morocco's neighbor which is the key foreign backer of the Polisario Front, also criticized its neighbor’s deal with Israel, with its Prime Minister saying, "There is now a desire by the Zionist entity to come closer to our borders."