American policy toward Morocco's problems in the disputed Western Sahara appears to be taking some new twists. For the first time since Morocco moved into the Western Sahara in 1975, an official of the US State Department has visited the region. Carleton Coon, area director for North Africa, flew to Laayoune and Dakhla on Jan. 30.
Later on his tip through North Africa, Mr. Coon is expected to talk with Polisario Front officials in Algiers, a meeting that will be the first of its kind. (Polisario Front guerrillas based in Algeria have been locked in a bitter desert war with Moroccan forces for a number of years).
A further development was the recent announcement of Carter administration plans to sell $232.5 million worth of aircraft to Morocco. The US now has granted Morocco permission to use arms purchased in the US within the territory of the Western Sahara.
According to Mr. Coon, "There is no real change in US policy." The United States still does not recognize the Polisario Front as a state. But it does not recognize Morocco's sovereignty over the Western Sahara either. The relaxation of travel restrictions to the disputed territory for US government officials reflects a "judicious and selective" broadening of US contacts in the Western Sahara and with the Polisario Front. "We wish to contribute to the achieving of a peaceful settlement through direct bilateral contacts in Algiers and Rabat," Mr. Coon said.
Recent Polisario attacks also should help convince US congressmen of the necessity to approve military aid to Morocco.