US Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Morocco’s Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita signed a deal today aimen agreement today cementing the two countries’ defense relationship through the next decade.
Full details of the accord, signed during Esper’s visit to Rabat, have not been publicized. But the Pentagon said it would allow the two countries to “improve” their military cooperation, with an emphasis on the annual African Lion multinational exercise led by the United States and Morocco.
Morocco’s Foreign Ministry said the agreement will serve as a “road map for defense cooperation” between the two countries, both in terms of strategic partnership and “shared security goals.”
“Improving the degree of military readiness” is among the priorities, the country’s Royal Armed Forces said in a statement. During the visit, Esper met with Deputy Prime Minister Abdeltif Loudiyi and the inspector general of Morocco’s armed forces, Gen. Abdelfettah Louarak.
The two sides also discussed “regional problems, economic issues, and more,” according to the Pentagon.
Why it matters: The United States is looking to build up its partnerships in North Africa amid Russia’s growing military presence on the Mediterranean, and amid both Moscow and Beijing’s interests in Africa in general.
Today’s agreement follows a similar 10-year road map signed by Esper and Tunisian officials this week.
That plan included cooperation on areas such as freedom of navigation, sharing intelligence and disaster response operations, the Pentagon said, adding that the deal “took two years to negotiate” and could serve as a blueprint for future US agreements with other governments in Africa.
On Thursday, Esper made the first visit of a US defense secretary to Algeria since 2006. The trip was widely seen as gesture to invite the former French colony — one of the region's top military spenders per capita — closer to the United States' strategic orbit.
Algeria has relied for decades on Russian arms sales. Longtime President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was ousted by popular protests last year, and the country’s draft constitution, if approved, would allow it to deploy its troops outside of the country’s borders.
What's next: While the United States formally considers Morocco and Tunisia non-NATO allies, it's not clear Algeria intends to move to join its neighbors anytime soon.
Know more: Read about the US Africa Command’s latest assessment of foreign fighters and Russian hardware in the conflict in neighboring Libya.