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A Moroccan soldier on a hilltop in Western Sahara. Photo: Fadel Senna/AFP via Getty

Secretary of State Tony Blinken told Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita in a phone call on Friday that the Biden administration would not reverse President Trump's recognition of Morocco's sovereignty over the Western Sahara, at least for the time being, two sources familiar with the call told me. 

Why it matters: Trump's recognition of the Western Sahara as part of Morocco reversed decades of U.S. policy regarding the disputed territory, and was part of a broader deal that included the renewal of diplomatic relations between Morocco and Israel.

  • The U.S. decision last December was a long-sought diplomatic breakthrough for Morocco. The kingdom was concerned it could be reversed once Biden took office.
  • Israel was also concerned that a reversal of the policy would harm the normalization process with Morocco. 
  • The U.S. is the only Western country to recognize Morocco's sovereignty over the Western Sahara, which was annexed by Morocco in 1975 after former colonial power Spain surrendered control.

The backstory: There had been almost no contact between the Biden administration and the Moroccan government over the first three months of the new administration.

  • Ten days ago, Biden's Middle East advisor, Brett McGurk, spoke to Bourita and gave the impression that there would be no change in the U.S. policy on Western Sahara, a source familiar with the call told me.
  • The State Department readout of Blinken's call with Bourita on Friday didn't mention Western Sahara, but two sources familiar with the call confirm that it was discussed and that Blinken said the Biden administration would not reverse Trump's policy for now.
  • According to the State Department readout Blinken "welcomed Morocco’s steps to improve relations with Israel and noted the Morocco-Israel relationship will bring long-term benefits for both countries."

The state of play: Senior White House and State Department officials have held multiple discussions on this issue over the last few weeks.

  • The decision that emerged from these discussions was not to reverse Trump's policy but to work with the Moroccans on appointing a new UN envoy for the Western Sahara in order to try and resume talks on possible autonomy for the sparsely populated territory, according to two sources familiar with those discussions.
  • The State Department referred Axios to the official readout, and did not offer further comment.

Go deeper

What happens now that emergency orders are lifting

Expand chart
Data: National Academy for State Health Policy and various governor declarations; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

Soon, more than half the states will have ended their formal emergency declarations for the pandemic — which could have a ripple of effects across the economy.

Why it matters: Lifting those orders will allow businesses to serve more customers, but will also end certain safety nets, including expanded food and housing assistance, as well as eviction protections.

Updated 3 hours ago - World

500 Hong Kong police officers raid pro-democracy newspaper

Chief Operations Officer Chow Tat Kuen (front 2nd R) is escorted by police from the Apple Daily newspaper offices before being put into a waiting vehicle in Hong Kong on Thursday. Photo: Anthony Wallace/AFP via Getty Images

Hong Kong's Apple Daily said 500 police officers searched the pro-democracy newspaper's offices and arrested five senior executives on Thursday.

Why it matters: The arrests of the paper's chief editor, Ryan Law, along with its chief operating officer, two other editors and the CEO of Next Digital, which operates Apple Daily, were made under China's national security law — which gives the government broad power to limit people's political freedom.

World Bank rejects El Salvador's request to help implement bitcoin

President Nayib Bukele, giving a speech in El Salvador's legislative assembly in San Salvado earlier this month, pushed for bitcoin to become legal tender. Photo: Emerson Flores/APHOTOGRAFIA/Getty Images

The World Bank has rejected the government of El Salvador's request to help the country implement Bitcoin as legal tender, Reuters first reported late Wednesday.

Why it matters: The international lender's rejection could hamper the government's goal of making the digital currency accepted across the country within three months.