By Khaled Majdoub
Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs Nasser Bourita said on Tuesday that his country had severed ties with Tehran over alleged ties between Hezbollah and a separatist group in Western Sahara.
Speaking to reporters in the Moroccan capital Rabat, Bourita added that his country had decided to close its embassy in Tehran and asked Iran's ambassador to leave the country.
Bourita said the move was due to "the engagement of the Iranian-backed Lebanese Hezbollah in a relationship with the Polisario [front
Occupied by Spain until 1975, Western Sahara -- a large territory in southern Morocco -- has remained the subject of dispute between Rabat and the Algeria-backed Polisario Front for more than four decades.
Since the early 1970s, the Polisario Front, a self-proclaimed national liberation movement backed by Algeria, has demanded an independent state in Western Sahara.
Rabat says the region is an integral part of Morocco. It has, however, proposed a system by which Western Sahara might enjoy a degree of autonomy while remaining under Moroccan sovereignty.
The Polisario Front, for its part, wants to hold a popular referendum in Western Sahara to decide the region’s political fate.
Bourita added that Morocco had evidence of funding from Hezbollah to the Polisario Front.
"Rabat has information that the diplomats at the Iranian embassy in Algeria have facilitated the meeting between leaders of Hezbollah and leaders of the Polisario [Front]," he said.
The Moroccan foreign minister added that there was evidence of Hezbollah providing weapons to the separatist group as well as “information confirming the relationship between Polisario and Hezbollah, since November 2016."
Hezbollah, in a written statement, has called Morocco’s accusation as an “unsubstantiated charge” originated from "the pressure of the U.S., Israel and Saudi Arabia" to cut diplomatic relations with Iran.
Saudi Arabia welcomed Rabat’s decision, expressing solidarity with “the sisterly Kingdom of Morocco”.
“The Saudi government strongly condemns the Iranian interference in Morocco's internal affairs through its tool, Hezbollah's terrorist militia, which is training the elements of the so-called ‘Polisario’ group in order to destabilize the security and stability in the sisterly Kingdom of Morocco,” Saudi state news agency SPA reported, quoting an anonymous official of the Kingdom’s foreign ministry.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir claimed Iran is trying to undermine security in Arab and Islamic countries.
“Iran is destabilizing the security of Arab and Islamic countries by igniting sectarianism, interfering in their internal affairs and supporting terrorism,” Jubeir wrote on Twitter.
“What Iran has done to the Kingdom of Morocco through its proxies (Hezbollah) training the so-called Polisario Front is solid proof of Iran’s interference,” he added.
Meanwhile, United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash also expressed his country's support to Morocco over its decision against Iran.
"Our policy and support for Morocco
Qatar also expressed solidarity with Rabat "in preserving its sovereignty against any attempts aimed at undermining its unity or targeting the security of the Kingdom of Morocco and the safety of its citizens", according to a Foreign Ministry statement.
"Qatar stresses the importance of respecting the principles governing relations between states, foremost among them respect for the sovereignty of states, non-interference in their internal affairs and the resolution of disputes through dialogue and peaceful means and internationally recognized methods,” it added.
Iranian authorities have not yet reacted to the Moroccan foreign minister’s remarks.
*Sorwar Alam from Ankara contributed to this story.