Ahmed Snoussi, Former Moroccan Minister and Ambassador to the UN, and most importantly, close confidant of King Hassan II, passed away this week. He was 92 years old. He was held in high esteem in Morocco as a key figure in the fight for independence and one of the earliest architects of the foreign ministry in the late 1950s. He was also one of the most recognizable and revered personalities in Morocco.
I was a personal witness to the love Ambassador Snoussi received throughout the country. For instance, on the many occasions we had dinner together, which always included a bottle of Snoussi's choice of French Bordeaux, a bill was never presented, only a thank you to him for his patriotism and contribution to country. During our time together in Morocco people would run up to him to kiss his hand and thank him for his service to country and loyalty to the King.
Among his many friends were former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Governor and former USUN Ambassador Bill Richardson and UN secretary General Kofi Annan, and many heads of state, kings, queens and African leaders. He served in several African nations, including Nigeria, Tunisia, Algeria and Mauritania. Rumor had it that he was even detained in the Congo during Lumumba's rule and like many world leaders, Lumumba found him so appealing Snoussi was given the title of Minister of Information and adviser to the ruler while under detention, until King Hassan demanded his release.
I first met Snoussi at the Washington home of then Ambassador Mohamed Benaissa during the first of many dinners among the three of us, just before I went to Morocco as US Ambassador. The conversation immediately shifted to the question of the Western Sahara, which would become the center of our conversation for the next three years and would continue for nearly another twenty years after leaving Morocco as Ambassador. Along with my political counselor, friend and confidant Robert Holley, the four of us began a journey to examine and eventually recommend a new US policy on the Sahara.
Within a year and half of our tenure in Morocco, Bob and I were able to convince the State Department that a winner-take-all referendum on the Sahara question, as well the status quo of doing nothing, was not feasible or sustainable. Instead, we proposed a political solution by offering a formulation of international autonomy for the people of the Sahara under Moroccan sovereignty. We took the proposal first to Snoussi and Benaissa. They carefully guided the proposal through a number of concerns expressed by King Hassan. Unfortunately King Hassan wouldn't live long enough to see a settlement of the issue, but he expressed to me three days before his death that he finally agreed with the US that the Sahara should be settled politically, along the lines we agreed upon.
King Mohammed VI, upon taking office, and after meeting with Secretary Albright, decided that with US support, this could be the best option for his people. One of the most memorable moments of my time with King Mohammed VI was in his limousine, along with Benaissa and Snoussi, as the four of us rode through the streets of Tanger on our way to Chefchouan during the King's maiden voyage to the North, negotiating the terms of the US-Morocco deal with regard to the Sahara issue.
The King, who had not even been on the throne for two months, took the decision in large part based upon the trust he had for Snoussi. The final agreement, which has been the basis of UN negotiations for the past twenty years, solidified and strengthened the US-Morocco relationship, which continues to this day. This change in US policy was the result of hours upon hours of meetings among us, learning to trust one another, and in no small part because of Snoussi's appealing and endearing way of doing business.
Snoussi's most endearing quality was his humor. If there was ever a book written on the importance of humor in the conduct of diplomacy, it would have to be dedicated to Ahmed Snoussi. One could never get enough of Ahmed Snoussi, whether it was for a social affair or serious business. He was a consummate storyteller, a charismatic figure and humorist who would draw you in and leave you not knowing where the truth ended and the story started.
Snoussi was close to King Hassan II in large part because he was appealing, fun and trusted for his advice. This gave him the proximity to power and an opportunity to present his opinions, and an ability to offer tough advice. And these qualities went beyond King Hassan to others he dealt with diplomatically, during tough negotiations with the UN Security Council and in capitols around the world. It was often heard in other capitals when negotiating contentious issues with Morocco, send Snoussi!
He became an uncle to many, in the Royal court and in diplomatic circles. His advice will not be forgotten and his humor will keep us smiling whenever we think of him. Thank you Ammou (uncle in Arabic), Rest in Peace.