Rabat, Morocco — In 1786, a new nation signed a treaty with the Alaouit Sultan of Morocco in order to protect its ships from pirates in the Mediterranean.
It is the longest-standing pact in the annals of United States diplomacy.
And on Tuesday, another Alaouit, King Hassan II, begins a visit in Washington at a time when US-Moroccan relations are closer than they have been since 1786.
''We have to build slowly here, and be very careful, in order never to assume a protectorate mentality,'' said a US diplomatic source here.
The US wants a diplomatic relationship with the Moroccan monarch which will do more than allow transit rights for the Rapid Deployment Force. It wants a kind of relationship that will dovetail with efforts to achieve a permanent solution to the Palestinian problem.
King Hassan II was a prime force in arranging secret meetings between Egyptian and Israeli officials, prior to the late President Anwar Sadat's 1977 journey to Jerusalem. He is thought by Western diplomats in Rabat to be perfectly suited to play a similar role in a process that would lead to a solution for the West Bank.
Moroccan government officials are just as anxious as the Americans to get on with the peace process.
''It is the duty of all Arabs to accept Egypt back into the fold. We wish to reestablish relations with Egpyt as soon as possible. We also wish to sit down with Israel and help make a solution,'' says Ambas Taib Bouazza, director of the North American section at the Foreign Ministry here.
King Hassan's leadership of the Jerusalem Committee--an Arab group monitoring Israeli rule of the Holy City--puts him in a well-disposed position to play a key role in any peace negotiations.
The Easter Sunday violence at the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem concerned Western diplomats in Rabat particularly because it put the King in an especially vulnerable position. This was because the perpetrator was an American citizen, and King Hassan is identified with American policy interests in the region.
On April 17, a few days after the Dome of the Rock incident in Jerusalem, US Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. was scheduled to stop for 24 hours in Morocco on his way from Buenos Aires to London. The visit was canceled at the last minute due to snags in Buenos Aires over the Falkland Islands issue. It is assumed in Rabat that the subject for discussion was to be Jerusalem. It would have been the second time in three months that the American secretary of state visited the kingdom.
But some well-placed Moroccans in Rabat think the US may be too optimistic about the King's ability to help them achieve a Middle East peace.
During the King's visit to Washington, the principal subject for discussion will not be the West Bank, but transit rights in Morocco for the Rapid Deployment Force.