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Earthquake in Morocco: France tries to hide diplomatic tensions

Earthquake in Morocco: France tries to hide diplomatic tensions
The French Minister for Foreign Affairs, Catherine Colonna   -  
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Sophie Garcia/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.


The head of French diplomacy sought Monday to nip in the bud the controversy over the reasons why Morocco, currently at odds with Paris, did not take up France's aid offer after the devastating earthquake occurred this weekend.

The Moroccan government announced on Sunday that it had accepted the support of four countries: Spain, Great Britain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

On Monday, Rabat had still not requested French aid, arousing astonishment as the country is recognized for its experience in the event of a natural disaster and President Emmanuel Macron declared on Sunday that France was ready to intervene "at the second" where the Moroccan authorities request it.

“It’s a bad quarrel, a completely inappropriate quarrel,” declared Minister Catherine Colonna , on the BFMTV channel. “Morocco has refused no aid, no proposal. This is not how things should be presented,” she added, insisting that “Morocco is sovereign. ”

The country "is alone in a position to determine what its needs are and the pace at which it wants responses to be provided," she added.

For Pierre Vermeren , historian and professor at the University of the Sorbonne, it is however a "clear political sign" of a coldness between the two countries. “The French are used to working with Morocco,” he told AFP, noting “the question of language” . “It’s obvious that it’s easier for French people to go to work in Morocco than for British people or even Spanish people in the south,” he continues.

Relations between Morocco and France, a former colonial power, have been tense since Emmanuel Macron has tried to get closer to Algeria - which broke off diplomatic relations with Rabat in 2021, accused of "hostile acts".

For months, there has been no Moroccan ambassador in France. And the visit of the French president to the kingdom has still not materialized. Rabat is also getting impatient because Paris does not seem inclined to move the lines on the thorny issue of Western Sahara.

For Morocco, the Sahara takes precedence over any other subject. Rabat wants France to recognize Moroccan sovereignty over the Sahara, like the United States and Spain .

Without predicting the future aid that could be requested when tens of thousands of people will need to temporarily relocate, Pierre Vermeren therefore sees " a message" indicating that Morocco prefers for the moment to "surround itself with friendly monarchies" rather than turning to France, which maintains "good relations with the Algerians" to the "detriment" of Morocco.

“We know the diplomacy of Mohammed VI,” continues Pierre Vermeren. “He likes to send messages, clear chin strokes to say when he is angry. ”

Without denying bilateral tensions, Catherine Colonna assured that relations were far from broken. She said that Emmanuel Macron had exchanged "many times" during the summer with King Mohammed VI and that the two countries were working to find a date for the French president's visit to Morocco.

She herself spoke at length with her Moroccan counterpart on Sunday. "All contacts are being made at all levels. Let's put that (the tensions) aside. People are suffering. People need help", insisted the minister, also announcing aid of 5 million euros to help NGOs currently “on site” .

This envelope is released via the reserve funds of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Beyond the questions about aid, this tragedy which left more than 2,500 dead and more than 2,400 injured, according to a provisional report, is an opportunity for Paris and Rabat to "take back language", underlines Pierre Vermeren . Because “the quarrel will not be able to last four more years” .

Another possible explanatory factor: the Moroccans, who already had a tremor in 2004, had "prepared very seriously for the next one" and might not immediately need French expertise, says the professor.

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