ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — The office of the Algerian president announced on Wednesday that the North African nation was “immediately” suspending a two-decade-old friendship treaty with Spain.
It is the latest blow to the increasingly shaky relationship between Algiers and Madrid, which depends on Algeria for much of its natural gas supply.
Tensions soared in a complex three-way dispute after Spain gave its backing to Morocco’s position in the disputed territory of Western Sahara. Algeria supports the Polisario independence movement in the region, which rejects Morocco’s annexation of Western Sahara. The Polisario is camped in southern Algeria.
The statement from Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s office cited what it called an “unjustifiable reversal” in March of Spain’s position, amounting to a “fait accompli using fallacious arguments”. He said Spain had since campaigned “to vindicate” its position.
The statement says Spain is abusing its role as “administering power” in Western Sahara until the United Nations settles the status of this vast, mineral-rich territory. It “therefore contributes directly to the deterioration of the situation in Western Sahara and in the region”, declared the office of the Algerian president.
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“As a result, Algeria has decided to immediately suspend” the treaty, which served as a framework for relations between the two countries, the statement said. The treaty dates from 2002.
The Spanish government said it regretted Algeria’s decision and reaffirmed its commitment to the friendship treaty.
“The Spanish government considers Algeria a friendly neighboring country and reaffirms its total will to maintain and develop the special cooperative relationship between our two countries, for the benefit of the peoples of both,” said a statement from the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. .
Spain was the former colonial power in Western Sahara until its annexation by Morocco in 1975. Since then, Algeria and neighboring Morocco have had strained ties over the fate of Western Sahara, at one point leading to a desert war. Morocco wants some autonomy for the region with Moroccan control over what it calls its “southern provinces”.
The two African countries severed diplomatic relations in August amid a stalemate.
The Western Sahara issue has combined with turmoil over energy supplies to gas-rich Algeria. The Algerian press regularly describes Spain’s support for Morocco as a form of “treason”.
Algeria’s diplomatic slap in the face to Spain came hours after Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez spoke at length before the Spanish Parliament on his decision to side with Morocco on the future of Western Sahara. Sánchez said the autonomous functioning of Western Sahara under Moroccan rule is “the most serious, realistic and credible initiative” to resolve the long dispute over territory.
A leader in wind and solar power, Spain still needs to import natural gas to meet its energy needs.
In 2021, Algeria’s Sonatrach supplied Spain with more than 40% of its imported natural gas, most of it transported via the undersea Medgaz gas pipeline. Another supply route to Spain was via the Maghreb Europe pipeline which passes through Morocco but was closed after diplomatic relations between Algeria and Morocco broke off in August.
In recent months, the United States has become Spain’s leading supplier of natural gas.
So far, there is no indication that Algeria plans to breach its current contract to send gas to Spain via a pipeline and tankers. But it recently announced that Italy, with which it has a separate pipeline, would be a preferred customer as European countries scramble to find alternatives to Russian energy to punish it for its invasion of Ukraine.
“Algeria is well known for being a trustworthy (gas) supplier and has given guarantees at the highest level of its government” that the gas will continue to flow, Spanish Foreign Minister José Albares said.
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