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US officials reassess Moroccan desert war

Visits by three high-ranking delegations from the United States in recent days indicate an upsurge of American interest in this country and a desire to understand its problems.

The feeling here is that the US is reassessing its view of the long Saharan guerrilla conflict between Moroccan armed forces and units of the rebel Polisario Front based in neighboring Algeria.

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The visiting Americans also may be taking a longer and more careful look at this longtime ally in the light of recent events, which include the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Libyan-backed strike at Gafsa in Tunisia.

With King Hassan visiting in Europe, however, Moroccan officials admitted to some confusion over the reason for so many visits from American dignitaries, even as they spread out the welcome mat.

First to arrive (on March 30) was US Air Force chief of staff Gen. Lew Allen, on the first stage of a tour of six African and Middle Eastern nations.

Only three days before, the State Department had announced that Maverick air-to- ground missiles (for use on USF-5E combat aircraft recently authorized for sale to Morocco by Congress) will be furnished to Morocco within a few months.

On April 2, Thomas P. O'Neill Jr., Speaker of the House of Representatives, arrived for a four-day visit with a delegation of 11 congressmen, their wives, and staff. A three-hour session with Prime Minister Maati Bouabid was followed by an exchange of views with members of parliament, including leaders of Morocco's four major political parties.

Calling Morocco one of the oldest friends of the US, Speaker O'Neill stated that the group had gained "a firm grasp of Morocco's needs." House minority leader Rep. Silvio Conte (R) of Massachusetts, commenting on the increasingly strong relations between the US and Morocco, went so far as to state, "We think your territorial integrity should be preserved."

The third visit was by an official congressional study mission led by the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Clement J. Zablocki (d) of Wisconsin. The mission is concentrating on North African regional problems and was slated to move on to Algeria and Tunisia.

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During the visit, Mr. Zablocki went out of his way to stress American gratitude for continued Moroccan support of US positions around the world.

He also minimized the US Role as an arms supplier for Morocco, laying emphasis instead on the importance of peace negotiations in solving the Saharan conflict.

Rep. David R. Bowen (D) of Mississippi stated that in Algiers, an effort would be made to induce Algeria to discuss a peaceful solution with Morocco. However, Mr. Zablocki made it clear that the US Does not intend to act as mediator in such negotiations.


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