Bilateral relations with Algeria, the pending issue of Minister Albares

On March 18, the news of a letter sent by the President of the Government, Pedro Sánchez, to the King of Morocco, Mohamed VI. It laid the foundations for a new framework of bilateral relations with the neighboring country. It highlighted Spain’s recognition of the Moroccan autonomy plan for the Occidental Sahara as “the most realistic and credible basis”. A fact that raised a political earthquake among the rest of the political forces, with the members of the Executive of United We Can at the head. But it also caused unrest in Algeria that continues to this day. Different leaders of that country have made it clear on several occasions. The foreign minister, Jose Manuel Albareshas not wanted to confront and continues to praise relations with the Algerians.

But in the concrete there is an undeniable fact: Algeria does not have an ambassador in our country. She called him for consultations a day after discovering Sánchez’s letter to the Moroccan king. The official note explained that the Algerian Foreign Ministry had been “very surprised” by Spain’s support for Morocco’s autonomy project for the Sahara, so it decided to call its ambassador in Madrid “for consultations with immediate effect.”

The Algerians are traditionally allies of the Polisario Front and of the Saharawi cause. Not in vain, they welcome in their territory thousands of refugees who settled 45 years ago in the Tindouf camps. In turn, the tension and enmity with Morocco is historical.

Moncloa sources highlighted in those hours that had been previously reported of communication with Morocco to the Algerian country. Something that they denied shortly after from there. Publicly, the Government of Sánchez stopped maintaining that prior information but they continued to point out that Algeria was a strategic and reliable partner for our country.

“Diplomacy requires discretion,” they repeat in Moncloa when asked about any matter related to bilateral relations with Algeria. In this sense, they emphasize that we must be careful with public statements. That is the line that Albares maintains. In this sense, he spoke this past week about it: “I have said it many times but I repeat it again: Algeria is a solid and reliable partner We want to have the best relations with him”.

These latest statements by Albares come after a few days of some commotion in the Algerian country. In the first place, on the 24th, the Algerian president, Abdelmayid Tebune, criticized Sánchez on television. “What Spain has done is unacceptable, ethically and historically,” he declared about “its responsibility, which remains in Western Sahara before international legality.”

Algeria’s discomfort with Sánchez’s positions had already been made clear on other occasions, but never so emphatically and in the mouth of its top leader. The special envoy of the Algerian presidency for Western Sahara and the Maghreb countries, love belani, had indicated days before that he expected “frank clarifications” from Spain. Algeria has demanded these explanations “to rebuild a seriously damaged trust” after Sánchez’s letter to Mohamed VI.

To curl the curl more, a headline in the press of a few words from Albares unleashed again criticism from Algeria. From Algeria they interpreted that the minister had highlighted that the controversy over the Sahara was “sterile” when what he was referring to was “not feeding sterile controversy”. Belani then again criticized the Spanish government since, in his opinion, Albares’ “regrettable and unacceptable” words “certainly will not contribute to a rapid normalization of bilateral relations.”

Gas and guarantees

At the heart of the matter, beyond diplomatic relations proper, is the issue of gas. Algeria has so far been one of the main suppliers in Spain. The geographical position of our country makes this matter even more relevant. During the first days after Sánchez’s letter to Mohamed VI, the question about the guarantee of gas supply became common.

The president of the Algerian public company Sonatrach then warned of the possibility of “recalculating” the price of gas supply to Spain. But from Moncloa they pointed out that what was really happening is that it was right at this time to review the signed contracts. In other words, this possible increase was separated from the decisions taken by the Government regarding Western Sahara.

In any case, as published by this medium, Spain already prioritizes the US gas supply in the face of the crisis with Algeria over the Sahara and the war in Ukraine. And, in parallel, countries like Italy are moving to strengthen their cooperation in energy matters with the Algerian country. In any case, from Algeria, as President Tebune pointed out in the aforementioned interview, gas is guaranteed. “To reassure our Spanish friends, the Spanish people: Algeria will never get rid of its commitments in the supply of gas to Spain, whatever the circumstances.”

That guarantee is what they value from Moncloa, as Albares himself also stated this week. However, at the end of this week a new controversy was known in this matter. On Wednesday, the Algerian Ministry of Energy issued a statement in which it warned that it could terminate the gas supply contract with Spain if the Government diverted part of it to Morocco. The Algerian warning came after the Executive informed Algiers of its intention to reopen the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline to be able to transport the gas that Rabat buys on international markets through that route.

From the Ministry of Ecological Transition that directs Theresa Rivera They were quick to deny that Algerian gas was going to reach their neighboring country. Ribera was blunt this Thursday when he said that “not a single gas molecule” sent to Rabat can be “attributed to Algeria.” But energy market sources explained to Public this week that there are currently great difficulties in distinguishing the exact origin of the gas that may reach Morocco, since the gas network does not separate by origin.

In any case, the Enagas company is already working on a certification of origin procedure, under the instructions of the Ministry to ensure the transparency of shipments. Albares assured this week that there was still dialogue with the Government of Algeria. But there are no more details. “Diplomacy requires discretion,” they insist in Moncloa.


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