Intel: How Morocco used anti-Iran rhetoric to score its first bill in Congress

al-monitor Polisario Front soldiers drive a pickup truck mounted with an anti-aircraft weapon during sunset in Bir Lahlou, Western Sahara, Sept. 9, 2016.  Photo by REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra.

oct. 1, 2018

Morocco’s use of anti-Iran rhetoric, coupled with its newly hired conservative lobbyists, is finally yielding tangible dividends: its first standalone bill in the 115th Congress. And it just so happens that the bipartisan legislation comes down in favor of Rabat’s stance on the disputed Western Sahara.

Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., has partnered with Gerry Connolly, D-Va., and Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., to introduce a nonbinding resolution “condemning the recent provocative actions of the Polisario Front and its foreign supporters,” echoing Morocco’s accusations that Iran and Hezbollah support the Algerian-backed independence movement.

“The terrorist regime in Iran has been funding attacks against Morocco by the Polisario Front and it is time for the United Nations to promote a peaceful resolution to this Western Sahara conflict,” Wilson said in a statement upon introducing the bill on Friday.

Why It Matters: As Al-Monitor reported last month, Morocco’s new lobbying and media strategy hinges in part on unsubstantiated allegations that Iran’s Lebanese proxy Hezbollah has provided the Polisario with advanced surface-to-air missiles.

A brief State Department readout of Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita’s meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last month lists “shared efforts to end Iran’s support for terrorism and counter its malign influence in the region” as the only specific agenda item. Brian Hook, Washington’s Iran envoy, also noted that countries are “increasingly worried” about Tehran’s missile proliferation following a meeting with Bourita.

New Lobbyists: Lobbying disclosure forms reviewed by Al-Monitor reveal that two of Morocco’s lobbyists, the Glover Park Group and Iron Bridge Strategies, emailed and met with members of Wilson’s office several times this year — both before and after Rabat’s allegations in May.

Iron Bridge lobbyists also met with Curbelo’s office multiple times and donated $1,500 to his re-election campaign in March. The firm also emailed Connolly’s office twice. Notably, Connolly is not an Iran hawk, unlike Wilson.

Serious and Credible: In addition to condemning “any action” by Iran or Hezbollah “that promotes instability in North Africa,” the resolution reaffirms the Moroccan autonomy plan for the Western Sahara as “serious, realistic and credible.”

What’s Next: The bill is currently awaiting a markup in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, a prerequisite to a floor vote. While the resolution is nonbinding, its passage would indicate that Congress endorses both Morocco’s claims on Iran and its position on the Western Sahara. 

Know More: Read congressional correspondent Bryant Harris’ report on Bourita’s visit last month here. And check out our award-winning series The Influence Game to discover how Morocco has recalibrated its lobbying activity for the Donald Trump era.

- Bryant Harris

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