Morocco silent amid rumors of Netanyahu visit next month

2019/06/02 – Minister won’t address reports, but recent visit to north African nation by top Jewish Republicans adds fuel to speculation.

Morocco’s communications minister has refused to comment over the weekend on reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking to arrange a state visit to Morocco just before Israelis go to the polls in April 9 elections

“We do not deal in rumors,” government spokesperson Mustapha El-Khalfi said Thursday, when asked about the reports, according to Morrocan news outlet, Goud.

French-language website Le Desk reported last month that National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat is working, with US support, to arrange a meeting between Netanyahu and King Mohammed VI in Morocco.

The visit would take place around March 30, right after a visit to the African country by Pope Francis, according to Israel’s Channel 12 news.

According to Le Desk, Mohammed VI may see developing closer ties with Israel as an inroad with the Trump administration, as Morocco courts US support for its claims to Western Sahara, which most of the world views as an occupied territory.

Netanyahu’s office has also refused to comment on the reports.

Speculation ramped up recently after a visit to Morocco late last month by a delegation of Jewish Republican leaders from the US.

Included in the visit were Republican Jewish Coalition heads Norm Coleman and Matt Brooks as well as diplomat Elliot Abrams, who was recently named as US President Donald Trump’s special envoy to Venezuela, former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer and pro-Morocco lobbyist Andrew King.

Coleman tweeted a picture of the delegation with Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita.

Israel and Morocco do not have official diplomatic ties. In 2017, Mohammed VI canceled participation in a West African summit to avoid Netanyahu.

“Israel doesn’t respond to reports on contacts with states with which Israel does not have diplomatic relations,” the PMO told Channel 12 at the time.

Netanyahu, who is also Israel’s foreign and defense minister, has made diplomatic outreach to Africa, Latin America, and the Far East a cornerstone of his foreign policy, and has pushed for more open ties with moderate Arab states. In October, he made a rare trip to Oman.

He is also thought to be seeking high-profile visits showcasing his diplomatic achievements ahead of the elections.

In January, Israeli officials indicated Jerusalem was preparing for a “historic” visit by Mali’s Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga, likely before elections.

The move came a day after Netanyahu cemented the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Chad during the first-ever visit of an Israeli premier to the Muslim-majority African country.

Chad severed ties with Israel in 1972, due to pressure from Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi.

Appearing alongside Chad’s President Idriss Déby at the N’Djamena presidential palace Netanyahu called the move “a breakthrough into the heart of the Muslim world.”

He also indicated that additional Muslim countries in Africa would soon warm up to Israel. “There will be more major news. There will be more countries,” he said, without elaborating.

The Times of Israel

Sahel-Elite Photo: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Moroccan Crown Prince Moulay Hassan, and Moroccan King Mohammed VI, in Paris, November 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Francois Mori, Pool)

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