Morocco, Spain Defuse Apparent Tension on Ceuta, Melilla

Morocco and Spain have quickly moved over El Othmani’s statement on Ceuta and Melilla, which seemed as a possible source for tension.

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Recent comments by Morocco’s Head of Government Saad Eddine El Othmani about Ceuta and Melilla have not affected Moroccan-Spanish relations, says Fernando Grande-Marlaska, Spain’s minister of the interior.

Grande-Marlaska qualified Morocco-Spain relations as “extraordinary” during an interview with Spanish radio station Cadena Ser, as reported by Europa Press. “Nothing has changed in recent days,” he said.

The Spanish official made the statement after the Moroccan Ambassador to Madrid, Karima Benyaich, held a meeting with the Spanish Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Cristina Gallach.

On December 19, the Moroccan head of government stated that Morocco should begin discussing the situation of Ceuta and Melilla—the two Spanish-controlled cities in northern Morocco.

“Ceuta and Melilla are among the points on which it is necessary to open discussion,” El Othmani said during an interview with Saudi television channel Al Sharq.

“This file has been suspended for five to six centuries, but it will be reopened one day,” he added.

Read also: El Othmani’s Statement on Ceuta, Melilla Puts Spain on Defensive

Morocco officially considers Ceuta and Melilla as occupied territories. However, the kingdom is not vocal about the claims, mainly due to the importance of its “multidimensional” and “excellent” bilateral cooperation with Spain. 

Spanish authorities, meanwhile, considered El Othmani’s recent statement as a sign that Morocco will become more vocal about its position vis-a-vis Ceuta and Melilla.

Spanish state secretary Gallach summoned Ambassador Benyaich on December 22 for clarification.

During the meeting, Benyaich declared that Morocco’s position regarding Ceuta and Melilla is unchanged. However, she assured the Spanish official that Morocco does not intend to challenge the status quo or bring the issue to the fore in its relations with Spain.

Grande-Marlaska’s assurance that the Morocco-Spain relationship is “extraordinary” points to both sides’ readiness to defuse apparent tensions amid apprehensions of how El Othmani’s statement could affect the relationship between the two neighbors. 

Read also: Moroccan Ambassador to Spain Calms Tensions After El Othmani’s Statement