opinionBy Robert M. Holley
Clearly, events in Libya, Egypt and elsewhere across the Middle East and North Africa these past weeks demonstrate the necessity of the US being able to forge reliable partnerships with nations in the region who share a common view of the challenges and vision for the future.
The creation, earlier this month, of a Morocco-US Strategic Dialogue makes it clear that Morocco is that kind of viable strategic partner, and provides a new opportunity for our two nations to advance a progressive agenda for the region as threats to our common interests are increasingly evident.
The inauguration of a Strategic Dialogue between the U.S. and Morocco elevates and formalizes a longstanding relationship with a friend that shares our interests and values, recognizing more than a decade of leadership on reform under King Mohammed VI, and the increasingly close, cooperative relationship with Morocco under three US presidents.
Since King Mohammed VI ascended the throne in 1999 with a determination to expedite reform and development, Morocco has made significant advances in protecting human rights, especially the equal rights of women, building an independent judicial system, promoting religious tolerance, accelerating human development initiatives for the country's most disadvantaged, and boosting open trade and investment.
This strategic dialogue is not just another diplomatic gabfest; it is a carefully considered step by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to strengthen an anchor relationship in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). It provides an opportunity for the two countries to work together through regular, high-level meetings to give serious consideration to real issues of concern and to formulate policies and solutions that support US global interests, as well as Morocco's objectives, in the areas of politics, security, economy, culture and education.
Morocco is the first North African country--and one of only two dozen in the world--to have such a partnership with the US. Adding Morocco to that limited group--which includes Israel, Russia, South Africa, and India--signals America's growing commitment to Morocco as an increasingly important partner in achieving our mutual ambition to create a more democratic, prosperous, and secure MENA region.
At the same time, it is a demonstration of US support for Morocco's success in advancing democratic reform at home and its commitment to partner with the US in defense of our shared values. This is a model for how we should engage our friends in that part of the world on the basis of mutual respect and common interest. It should also serve as an incentive to other countries in the region who seek a closer relationship with the United States.
Success stories like Morocco's are needed in the region, and the convening of this strategic process builds on steps already taken between the US and Morocco. Morocco is one of only 20 countries that have free trade agreements with the US. It has formed an exceptional strategic partnership on military and security issues as it participates regularly in NATO and bilateral US military exercises and training and cooperates fully in our efforts to combat terrorist activity. It is one of only 24 countries with a current Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) compact -- which is awarded on the basis of a country's commitment to democratic reform and economic openness. Morocco is also designated a major non-NATO ally, one of only 16 countries with this exceptional status.
While Morocco continues to work to bring democratic reforms to full fruition, America's support and the privileged status it offers Morocco have encouraged and expedited the very positive outcomes we are witnessing there. As "Arab Spring" turbulence and increasing terrorist activity continue in the MENA region, the US can count on Morocco as a pillar of stability and as a reliable and staunch ally.
This is the capstone to a relationship that began more than two centuries ago with the birth of our nation.
When attacks by Barbary pirates in the Mediterranean threatened our young nation's ability to export its goods to Europe, America turned to the then-Sultan of Morocco, King Mohammed III, for assistance. This new relationship was subsequently codified in the 1787 US-Morocco Treaty of Friendship and Peace, America's longest standing treaty relationship which remains in force today.
In December 1789, President George Washington sent a letter thanking the Sultan for Morocco's help, writing "our soil is bountiful, and our people industrious, and we have reason to flatter ourselves that we shall gradually become useful to our friends."
The United States has now taken yet another major step to reinforce the promise George Washington made 223 years ago by affirming our commitment to an enduring partnership where the US and Morocco will continue to stand together in the 21st century as close friends and reliable allies, something that seems so very appropriate given that Morocco was the first country in the world to recognize the independence of the United States of America in 1777. - Robert M. Holley is Senior Policy Advisor for the Moroccan American Center for Policy (MACP).