Held on Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.




BACKGROUND: The longest, most protracted conflict in the history of the United Nations, the Western Sahara is once again on the agenda. A referendum, first promised to the Sahrawi people (the indigenous people of the Western Sahara) in 1974, has been scheduled for this December to give them the opportunity to vote on whether to become a free and independent country or be incorporated into the Kingdom of Morocco. John Bolton, Senior Vice President of the American Enterprise Institute, has been working closely with former Secretary of States James Baker, named by Kofi Annan as Special Envoy on the Western Sahara. Bolton formerly served as Assistant Secretary of State, overseeing the formulation and implementation of U.S. policy and diplomacy within the United Nations.

BOLTON: One of the difficulties I had in trying to fashion some remarks today was to decide exactly what capacity I wanted to speak: having been a State Department official, a private citizen, and now working in a pro bono capacity along with my former boss, Jim Baker, on this.

So, recognizing that the three positions are probably sufficiently contradictory that there's no good resolution to that question. I decided that, basically, I'll try and speak in my personal capacity. And, when I put my UN hat on, I'll try and let you know or you may be able to discern it on your own.

I wanted to run through a little bit of the history of MINURSO, because I think that helps explain in many respects where we are today, and how we got to this point. It also helps in deriving some lessons about the experience in the Western Sahara for the United States, for the United Nations and, obviously, specifically for the Western Sahara, itself.

Although this dispute had been going on for many years, my first real knowledge of it during the Bush Administration was as the UN Secretariat and some of the concerned nations were working toward what eventually became the creation of MINURSO. I first met with the Secretary General's then-Special Representative, Swiss diplomat Johann Maines in October of 1990, when we were discussing various options that were then under consideration on how to get the long-expected referendum on track.

If you think back to what we were doing in October, 1990 -- not that what I was doing was particularly relevant -- but what the United States government was involved in, at that time, shows one of the continuing problems of dealing with questions like the Western Sahara. We were then about thirty days away from getting a Security Council resolution that authorized the use of force to expel Iraq from Kuwait. So, all of us, obviously, were busy. And the question of the referendum in the Western Sahara had a lot of competition in terms of trying to get the attention of people on the Seventh Floor of the State Department or in the White House.

But, nonetheless, even while the crisis in the Persian Gulf was playing itself through, by about the time that the war was over, the humanitarian crisis in Iraq had begun in April of 1991. Of course, as most of you in this room, I'm sure know, the Security Council had, by then, approved Perez de Cuellar's plan for the conduct of the referendum in 1991.

And not only at that time was the attention of the United States and others focused heavily on the Persian Gulf, still, but we were also working intensely on an effort to resolve the ongoing crisis in Central America. And, this was in an effort to have elections both in Nicaragua and El Salvador that would end the guerrilla conflicts there.

Central America was one of the things that then Secretary General Perez De Cuellar had spent much of his time on, being Latin American himself, and obviously this being a major unresolved question in the Cold War. But he had also spent a considerable amount of his personal time on the Western Sahara. And it was clear as our efforts during 1991 continued to play out, that Perez De Cuellar's personal involvement, the time and energy he had devoted to the Western Sahara, were going to be critical in getting it resolved, if we were going to resolve it satisfactorily in 1991.

Now, part of our view in the spring of 1991 about the Western Sahara, I think, was motivated by an early misreading, if you will of the lessons of the UN in the Persian Gulf Crisis. And I will confess, myself, to misreading those lessons, at least for a while--although, I think I've caught up a little bit since then. But one of the misreadings was that we could pretty much do whatever we wanted in the Security Council. You've got a crisis, bring it in, roll it around a little bit, and you come to a Resolution, and fire it out, and away we go.

And in the environment in the spring and summer of 1991, all I can say is, "It sounded right at the time." But, as we got MINURSO up and running, and as the early implementation began, obviously we knew that one of the critical questions was going to be the issue of who was eligible to vote. And it had always been contemplated, I think in virtually everybody's discussions, that there were two elements to answer that question. The first element was those who were identified in the Spanish census, roughly 74,000 people. Then, there would be some number of people who would be added to that, some number who would be subtracted from it because they had died, but some who would be added to it because, for whatever reason, no census is perfect and people could have been missed. 1974 was a difficult time for Spain. It was a difficult time in the region. There would be some changes to the list in the Spanish census.

And so, happily proceeding on the basis that we could handle some modifications to the universe of 74,000 people, we started. However, we found in August and September of 1991 that the Moroccans were proposing to add different numbers at various times, but up to approximately 170,000 new names to add to the list of eligible voters.

I went back over some testimony that I gave before the House International Relations Committee in early 1992, just to refresh my recollection a little bit for today's talk. I found, and subsequently got into a little bit more detail on what our experts thought the actual change to the Spanish census might be. From that base of 74,000, what were the U.S. government's best estimates as to what the total number of additional voters might be?

And I found, and it's faithfully reprinted in the Committee Report of the Hearing before then-Chairman Mervyn Dymally's African subcommittee, but we estimated that number of 74,000 might be increased by 10,000 names. Ten thousand names. And it was on that basis, roughly of 10,000, a fifteen percent increase, that the UN's logistical operational planning and budget measures had proceeded.

When the Moroccan government proposed 170,000 new names, 160,000 more than we had anticipated, this raised, as they say diplomatically, a problem. And I can remember discussions inside the State Department about how to handle this. I remember some of my colleagues in the State Department from the regional bureau involved, saying, "You've got to stop complaining about these threats to the integrity of the referendum process. You've got to leave that alone. That's for the Secretariat to worry about. That's for the UN to worry about. It shouldn't be the US government's view."

Now, I tell you this story not to reveal some deep inner secret of the divisions within the US State Department or anything that was classified or anything else. While that dispute was true, you should now it was raised to me in early 1992 by an Austrian diplomat who had heard about this great conflict within the State Department -- between my bureau and the Near East Bureau -- over how to handle the referendum. So, I think you can be assured that if the government of Austria knew we were having internal difficulties, plenty of other people did as well. It doesn't speak volumes, I suppose, for our own security situation.

But, as the fall of 1991 went on, it became increasingly clear that, number one, the UN logistically, and we, in budget terms, simply could not handle the processing of 170,000 new names. It was going to be hard enough in budgetary terms, if nothing else, to pay for the entire MINURSO process which contemplated roughly 70,000 to 80,000 eligible voters.

However, because Secretary General Perez De Cuellar had invested so much of his personal time and energy and, indeed, in his own mind at least, so much of his prestige trying to resolve the Western Sahara, we were content, for well or ill, to let him pursue his own negotiations. Now, of course at that time, late 1991, Perez De Cuellar was coming to the end of his second term as Secretary General. His term expired on December 31, 1991. So we were acutely conscious that to the extent he was going to remain involved in it, if he was going to find the solution, it was within a matter of, an ever-shortening matter, of months and weeks and days.

But, of course, as I mentioned earlier, at the same time we were looking at ways to resolve the situation in Nicaragua and in El Salvador, in which we had also invested a considerable amount of time and effort, and which faced the same midnight, December 31st deadline. And as the Security Council and the various contact groups working on Central America on the one hand and the Western Sahara on the other, got to Christmas time in 1991, it became increasingly clear that we were going to resolve one of these issues or the other. Perez De Cuellar had twenty-four hours in six or seven days left, and we were prepared to take every single one of those hours, and pretty much did take every one of those hours. But, it was beyond any human ability to do more than one of these at the same time.

And certainly, for the Americans here today, it will come as no surprise to you that within the U.S. government's deliberations on which priority we felt was higher, Central America won. And in fact, we were able to sign in Mexico City in January of 1992, a series of agreements that brought the situation in Central America to resolution. But, that meant that we had failed in the Western Sahara. And, in fact, so badly did we fail, that when the Secretary General brought in the last days of 1991, a new report to the Security Council which proposed new criteria by which voter eligibility could be established, we felt that his work was simply unacceptable; that the new criteria did not match our understanding of what the parties had previously agreed. Indeed, our understanding at the time was that the parties themselves, or at least one of the parties, were not going to agree to what the Secretary General had come up with. That left us in a difficult position on Perez De Cuellar's last day of office: do we endorse a Security Council resolution that says, "We reject his report." Sort of a stinging way for a Secretary General to go out of office, especially at the same time he is hopefully delivering, along with our efforts, a solution in Central America.

So, after considerable argument in a way that can only happen in diplomatic circles, we agreed on a resolution in the Security Council that would -- and I use the precise word -- "welcome" the Secretary General's report. It did not approve the report. It did not approve the voter criteria. It didn't disapprove it. It simply welcomed it. So, I suppose you could "welcome" a cold rain, too. I mean, you could welcome a lot of things. That was the word we came up with, recognizing that we were imminently to have a new Secretary General. According to the terms of the Resolution we actually adopted on December the 31st -- that's what I did on New Year's Eve along with Central America that year -- Resolution 725 asks the new Secretary General to take, as I recall, two months to try and get these voter eligibility criteria fixed.

Johann Manz, whom I mentioned at the beginning, looked at this entire result and resigned as the Secretary General's special representative, because he just felt the process had broken down irreparably, and that the prospects for a free and fair referendum in the Western Sahara had been exhausted.

Now, in January of 1992, there was a first-ever Summit meeting of the Security Council in New York, attended by President Bush and the other heads of government of the Security Council countries, one of which was Morocco. King Hassan, himself, attended and there were discussions at that point, that was the beginning I should say, of Morocco's two year term on the Council as a non-permanent member. There were discussions with the new Secretary General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, about the identity of a new special representative.

And, in fact, at that time, Boutros-Ghali suggested an American who, ultimately, was not able to accept the position. But, I think reflected something that Boutros-Ghali thought, that it was, indeed, his desire to have an American involved as the special representative to try and bring this thing to resolution.

At this time, there was considerable discussion by our Department of Defense about what had been happening to the American military contingent that was part of MINURSO. And this was a significant development for us because during the Cold War we had long had a convention that Americans did not serve in UN peace-keeping operations. This was part of what was called the Perm Five Convention. We didn't want Russians and others involved in peace-keeping. They didn't particularly want us. And so, we had this understanding. There were a few rare exceptions. American forces, either observers, or as intermediary forces, simply did not serve.

But because of the importance of this issue, because of the personal request of King Hassan, Americans had been deployed in MINURSO. And because phones and mails still work, they told their friends at the Pentagon they were not very happy with some of the conditions they were encountering in the Western Sahara. And it will shock nobody in this room that this dissatisfaction found its way up here. And, indeed, that was one of the reasons why Congressman Dymally scheduled the hearing that I mentioned a few moments ago.

We had intense discussions in the State Department about what I was going to say about the conditions in the Western Sahara, what position I would take. Many of you probably think that the diplomatic training that our foreign-service officers and others at the State Department receive is to enable them better to deal with foreign diplomats. Actually, as I can reveal to you now, it is to better prepare people like me to come up here to testify before Congress and escape without being indicted for perjury. When this discussion of the Moroccan interference with MINURSO's deployment came up, I said, and this is a quote from the transcript, I said, "The Moroccan government's holding of MINURSO's supplies in customs for several months, was not helpful. After the UN, with our full support, made it clear to Morocco that better cooperation was necessary, the situation improved."

Now, what that says is, they were holding up our military people's supplies: their sanitary facilities, their air conditioning facilities, communications facilities. You name it, it was shut up in customs. So, as I said, we found that "not helpful."

And then, after we complained through diplomatic channels, of course, as I said, the situation improved. Now, I didn't say it was corrected, I said it improved, which it did. The point is, that at this time in early 1992, it was an extremely frustrating and unhappy moment for those of us in the Administration that had attempted to get MINURSO off the ground. In part, because in this wave of enthusiasm for the United Nations that followed the Persian Gulf Crisis, we saw the conduct of a free and fair referendum in the Western Sahara as an important test of the UN's new capabilities. And, in fact, I said to Congressman Solarz in response to one of his questions at this hearing, "We are as conscious as anyone, Congressman, that the Security Council and the United Nations will be gravely damaged if this plan fails."

Now, what happened after that was that the Secretary General picked Yaqub-Khan, a very distinguished diplomat from Pakistan, as the special representative. And as far as my memory serves me, everything stopped at that point. Everything stopped. The POLISARIO continued to sit in the refugee camps. The Moroccans continued to sit in the Western Sahara. And, as far as other activity went, it was almost invisible.

But one thing that I did remember, that I thought was significant, happened by late 1992. This is after President Bush had lost in re-election, and so our attention was tending to turn elsewhere, but we first heard about the possibility that the POLISARIO felt that the only way, the only way to get this referendum back on track was direct negotiation with the Moroccans. And, in fact, there were fitful efforts of that over the intervening years, but they never really went anywhere.

After I left the Administration, I'm just going to ignore the next five years because I think I can safely say that really, unfortunately, not much was happening, and fast-forward to February of 1997. The new Secretary General -- there've been a lot of Secretary Generals in this story -- Kofi Annan called Jim Baker and asked him if he would consider being his personal envoy, to try to do something about the situation in the Western Sahara.

Now, I think that the Secretary General approached Jim Baker for a couple of reasons, which were both wise and politically prudent from the UN's point of view. I think he recognized, which perhaps Boutros-Ghali had done five years before, that only an American was going to resolve this situation, if it could be resolved. Moreover, he wanted an American of real prominence, somebody who had a certain amount of independence, somebody who was doing this not because he needed a career in the United Nations system, or because he needed another plaque on his wall, but because it was something that he wanted to do.

I think the Secretary General also saw the two possibilities the Baker mission would have: number one, that it would succeed and bring about a free and fair referendum in the Western Sahara, that could be fairly described as a victory for the United Nations. I think he had that in mind. I think he wanted that. And I think he was hoping that Jim Baker could bring it home for him.

The other possibility, of course, was if the Baker mission failed, in which case, I believe, the Secretary General was prepared, and certainly Secretary Baker would have recommended, that MINURSO be terminated and the UN's involvement cease. So that the Secretary General could then say, "We're not in these peace-keeping operations for infinity. We're going to try and take a shot and, if we don't get agreement by the parties, we're going to give it up," showing the Secretary General was a hard and decisive manager.

Now, interestingly when Secretary Baker was preparing to go out to the region for the first time, he was advised by virtually every expert (and people who weren't necessarily experts but had opinions on the subject) that the referendum process could never work. It could never work. It was a bad idea. They believed that the idea of an either/or choice between independence for the Western Sahara or amalgamation with Morocco was the kind of choice that didn't permit a negotiated resolution, and that neither side would ever really agree to what they already agreed to several times before.

But, to their surprise, and I think to everyone's surprise, when Secretary Baker went to the region and asked the King, asked the government of Morocco, asked the leadership of the POLISARIO, "What do you want?" They said, without hesitation and without equivocation, "We want a free and fair referendum." "Want to talk about autonomy?" "No, we don't want to talk about autonomy. We want to talk about a referendum."

So, with that in mind, Secretary Baker launched the negotiations that through the courtesy of the governments of Great Britain and Portugal, took place variously in locations in Portugal and in Britain, and that, ultimately, led to the final agreement which was signed in Houston last year.

What I think the Houston Agreement meant was that the parties reaffirmed their desire to use the referendum process that they had previously agreed upon. All of the intermediate underbrush, that had built up over the six or seven years since the original referendum machinery had broken down, was swept away.

Now these were very difficult negotiations. And it was apparent to us at many points in the negotiations that they might fail. Baker had two principle factors on his side, two factors that remained on his side in an effort to make this thing successful. The first is the clear point that he made many times during the negotiations to the parties, and to anybody else who asked about it. He was prepared to say, "If we're not going to reach agreement here, I'm going to recommend to the Secretary General that we spool MINURSO up and withdraw the UN from the region."

I would say, I would argue that there is no one -- virtually no one -- in the UN system, who might have been in Baker's place as negotiator who was prepared to say that. And I would say further that it's hard to imagine anybody other than a former American Secretary of State having the wherewithal to make that kind of threat. But I think it was important. I think it was important for his role and, frankly, for the credibility of the United Nations.

The other bargaining leverage that Baker had was his ability, in effect, to blow the whistle on the party that might have caused the negotiations to come to a halt. He was able to say, "We agreed on this, this, and this, but we got to point X and this side simply wouldn't agree." That, too, I think, was a bit of bargaining leverage that somebody other than the personality like Baker's would really not have had at his disposal. But I do think that leverage enabled Baker to make progress that ultimately led to the Houston Agreement.

Now, there are many critical aspects on voter identification that remain to be worked out. This is not a done-deal by any stretch of the imagination. But, at least as of now, it's on track. And if it stays on track, it should lead to a free and fair referendum.

Let me just take a minute to reel off what I think are some of the lessons of this experience. And then I would be happy to answer any question. As I said earlier, I think part of what our initial problem in the Western Sahara was, was an over-enthusiasm for the mechanism of the United Nations. We just thought, sort of like a cookie-cutter, bring the Western Sahara on in. We'd done referenda in Namibia very successfully through the UN. We were about to do elections in Nicaragua and Salvador. We had others coming on the horizon. But having done it in Namibia, we figured, "How can this be more of a problem?" And that we'd just demonstrated the bona fides of the Security Council, this should be relatively easy to do.

And we were wrong. We were wrong. And anybody who drew the lesson from the Persian Gulf crisis that the Security Council was suddenly now functioning, mystically as it had been expected to function in 1945, was also drawing the wrong conclusion.

Second, as I've indicated, given Jim Baker's role -- and I know we have friends from Europe, here -- I think that only an American could have filled the role that Baker did. I think that this is the lesson that Americans, frankly, need to know more about, about discussions of European political collaboration. I think it was impossible to believe that the European Union could have come up with a coherent enough policy to drive this thing through to a conclusion. And it speaks a lot about European involvement in other areas of the world where there have been former colonial involvements. I think that this was one where both Boutros-Ghali and Kofi Annan picked correctly that they needed a prominent American.

I think also, and you can see this even now in the implementation, we need to be vocal about avoiding the culture of negotiations in the United Nations, once an agreement is reached to resolve a problem. What we need, and this can cut against the United States at different times, don't get me wrong on this. But, if you think that having reached agreement in a UN context, you can then implement it by continuing to negotiate, I think the Western Sahara proves that to be fundamentally wrong, in the pre-1997 events. But, hopefully, it won't prove to be wrong in the post-Houston part.

I think that it is an important lesson for the United States, and specifically for the Western Sahara, and I know everybody in this room is interested in seeing that there is a free and fair referendum. I think that the absolutely critical point that outsiders can contribute to immeasurably, is in flooding the Western Sahara with international election observers. I think the more there are from the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) the better. I have met with four from the NDI. I understand they have have a mission out there. I'm sure there are many other groups that are interested in referenda, democratic policy issues around the world. I think that this is unquestionably one of the most important challenges that they're going to see in the next couple of years to avoid having the result of the referendum bought and sold.

Because I tell you, it not only would have an obviously adverse implication for resolving the Western Sahara situation, but it would be, in our present context here in the United States and those of you from Capitol Hill are certainly aware of this on a first-hand basis. Two things: number one, if this election turns out to be unfree or unfair, even if Charlie Dunbar, the new special representative on the scene declares it not to be free and fair, in other words, says quite candidly that it was not conducted correctly, it will, nonetheless, be a huge defeat for the United Nations.

And, number two, if the referendum is bought and sold, or otherwise distorted in the results and the UN certifies it as free and fair, nonetheless, that would be an even greater defeat for the United Nations. It would, therefore, be a harm to any other possible use of the UN in a related context almost anywhere else around the world.

But, I do think that, in addition to continued scrutiny of the implementation process, I couldn't offer any better advice at all to those of you who are interested:find a way to get to the region to see what's going on. Don't wait until a week before the referendum. Go out now. Watch the repatriation process of the refugees. Watch how they're allowed to live in the Western Sahara, once they return. Watch to see if they're allowed to conduct free and open political activity, if they're allowed to express their opinions consistent with the code of the conduct that's attached to the Houston Agreement. See if they're allowed to do the things that you do in a democratic society. And, if there are problems that arise, do what Baker could do in the larger context, and blow the whistle on anybody who is acting in a way that prevents the referendum from being free and fair.

And I think that if enough people are out there, if there's enough scrutiny to the process, there's a real chance that it can still take place and achieve what the goal has been from the beginning: to allow the people of the Western Sahara to decide what their future is going to be.

Thank you very much. Once again, I'd be delighted to answer some questions.

Question: Will there be any border disputes after the referundum?

Bolton: Well, there shouldn't be any border disputes. The international lines are pretty well known. And I would be surprised if, well I guess I wouldn't be surprised at anything. But there don't seem to be any disputes over that at the present time, which is not to say there might not be. But they did not form any part of our discussions, so far.

Question: What about the Security Council saying it "welcomed" the report? You say it was a tacit rejection but they "welcomed" the report?

Bolton: Correct me if I'm wrong on this, but I don't believe in the history of the United Nations the Secretary General's report has ever been rejected by a vote of the Security Council. That was the position the United States started out from. But we were worried about Central America. And I can go into the reasons why we were worried about Nicaragua and Salvador at extraordinary length. And we didn't want the Secretary General to say, "Kiss it good-bye on that, if you're not going to say something nice about my report on the Western Sahara."
So, we debated a lot of phrases. And we came up with "welcome." But, it was expressly not an acceptance, which was, we searched at the time for anything less than an acceptance of the Secretary General's report and couldn't find any.

Same Questioner: But the report said it "welcomed" it?

Bolton: Well, I enjoy this discussion because it is a long talk about UN language, but everybody else might not. Let me just say, what we were faced with was an Action Report by the Secretary General that either required implementation or modification. And so, it wasn't a "take note of " kind of thing. But when the Secretary General issues a report at the request of the Council, which that was, we had to do something with it other than take note of it. So, we found a kind word for it, but it was clear from the U.S.'s statement of position that we did not accept the criteria.

Question: Could you tell us what U.S. security interests are involved here?

Bolton: Well, I think the reason that we felt it was important from the beginning was that granted, Morocco had been a major, just in the most recent years, a major supporter of the United States in the Persian Gulf War. It supported the convening of the Middle East Peace Process. It had long been helpful to the United States in many matters and the Middle East, but by the same token, the government of Algeria at that point was in a crisis situation, still has difficulties today, as everybody here knows. And a resolution of the situation in the Western Sahara we thought was important to contribute to the stability of the whole region. It's even more so, now, with the kind of American investment in a number of natural resource explorations in Algeria.
What we were doing was based on a pretty fundamental American principle, that we wanted the people of the Western Sahara to make up their mind what their status was going to be. And one could have acquiesced in a military resolution to the question very easily. All you had to do was throw up your hands and go away. But we didn't think that for the long-term interest of the US or our friends in the region, that was acceptable. I didn't think that was acceptable seven or eight years ago, and I don't think it is today. I think we've got a substantial interest in it.

Question: It is interesting that when we see these kinds of situations the most important process for the referundum is the process of determining the eligible voters. What constitutes a Sahrawi?

Bolton: Well, ultimately, after explaining why we didn't like Perez De Cuellar's criteria in 1991, ultimately, the POLISARIO accepted the criteria. So, a lot of the discussions during the course of the Baker mission were an effort to elaborate and understand exactly how that would work. And to find out how we would get over the question that remained from 1991 to the present, the hardest question, the so-called contested tribes. And the formula that Baker worked out with the parties was, that the government of Morocco agreed that it would not sponsor, directly or indirectly, any of these members from the contested tribes for voter identification. And what they further agreed was that the identification process as to those contested tribes would be conducted as soon as possible. And the idea there was that if there was going to be a problem with the contested tribes, we were going to find out about it sooner rather than later. And that, therefore, if that part of the agreement began to come unstuck, or whether the Moroccans presented people or supported them or whatever, that this would be a place early in the implementation of the Houston Agreement, to say, "There's no real agreement. There was no real meeting of the minds."
Because we didn't want to get into another situation of waiting six or seven more years for the thing to play out. Secretary Baker, if he said it once, he probably said it a hundred times in the course of this process, the parties were probably tired of hearing it. But he said, over and over again as we went through the negotiations, and this was a trademark of the way he negotiates, "Nothing is agreed to, until everything is agreed to." So, you say to one side or other, "You've got to come along on this point." Or, "You've got to accept this", and they do not want to do it or don't like it.
Part of getting them to agree was that, if negotiations had broken down, they were not irrevocably committed to some concession they had made. And what that means as you play it out when you say, "Nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to," is that the way these pieces fit together becomes important. So, if the Houston Agreement, itself, breaks down -- and I have to say, I hope that it doesn't for all kinds of reasons -- there are ways for it to come apart again without either side being committed to something that they agreed to in the spirit of compromise, not necessarily because that's the result they would have wanted in a perfect world.

Question: I understand that the Western Sahara has minerals and natural resources that the Moroccans now control. Could you comment on that?

Bolton: Well, we didn't really get into any discussions about the questions of the minerals or anything like that. One of the theories of those who advised Secretary Baker at the beginning of his mission said, "While autonomy was the logical result, this was just basically an economic dispute. And, if they can agree on how to allocate the mineral rights, the fishing rights, the tourist rights, surely they will find a way to resolve their political differences."
And I think that the very fact that we didn't talk about those questions demonstrates how strongly people felt that it wasn't, I mean, obviously, I'm not discounting that it's important, but it really was, it was fundamentally a question of political self-determination. And that's what was important for the Sahrawi people, and we could see after that what happened on the economic side.

Question: The most difficult part has been identifying the eligible voters. The agreement sets forth certain criteria for the voters, which has been manipulated by both sides. Some have said that it is impossible to determine the eligible voters . But it is not impossible. It can be done.

Bolton: It is very complicated. I must say, if I ever need a job, I'm going to apply to the Spanish Census Bureau, because having read those documents quite carefully through, I think I'm now an expert on how to do it. But, it's very, very difficult. No doubt about it. .

Question: What is the your sense of the parties willingness to accept the outcome of the referendum? Is Morocco and the POLISARIO willing to accept the possibility that they may lose? Is each side willing to lose gracefully?

Bolton: It is another huge problem for the United Nations if, whichever side wins, the other side says, "I don't care, I don't accept the result." This happened to the UN in Angola, where agreement broke down for a variety of reasons. I don't want to get into a huge discussion of Angola, because we're not here to talk about that. But, if that were to happen, not only would it obviously mean that the situation in the Western Sahara was unresolved, but it would be a body blow to the Security Council. And, just speaking as somebody who thinks that the UN is, from time to time, useful in the implementation of American foreign policy, I think that would be a mistake.
I think if a party were just flatly to say, "We don't accept the outcome of the referendum," it would be a long time before the Council could recover from that. You can imagine what the reaction up here, I think, would be. And it may be, in 1991, that the process came to a halt because people were worried about the outcome. All I can say, then, is if in fact they were worried about it, they never should have agreed to a referendum in the first place -- if this is a truly free and fair referendum of the kind we've been talking about and leads to either independence or amalgamation of Morocco.
We talked about the possibility of "what about an in-between category?" What about voting on autonomy? Various ways, for example, of how Quebec has considered its status in Canada. And the parties were unequivocal, that they didn't, they didn't want to muddy the water. They wanted a clear up or down choice. And that's what they've agreed to, and I think we should hold them to that.

Question: Moroccan officials have stated that this issue was resolved in 1975 and the referendum was just a confirmative exercise. What happens if the parties fail to adhere to the results?

Bolton: I don't know if there's anybody from Morocco, here, who wants to get up and say anything about that. Let me just say as a matter of utilization of the UN, this is a case where, if it's going to succeed, it's going to succeed because the parties have consented to a process to resolve the issue. And, if one of the parties declines to accept the results of the referendum, I don't believe the United Nations is in a position to enforce it.
And to me, one of the conclusions I draw about the efficacy of the UN is that it can work, and historically has only worked, in situations where the parties truly give their consent. People talk about in Bosnia or other places, that the UN going out and seizing war criminals, or doing this, or doing that, acting in a way that all of the parties have not consented to. I think that is doomed to failure and the UN would be doomed to failure here, too. Although some people have questioned whether the UN can guaranteed the result, one way or the other, but I don't think that's on the table. I don't think that was ever possible. And the parties have either consented to it, given their word, or agreed to abide by the results, and they will abide by the results, or, if they don't, then they're dishonored, is the only conclusion I can come to.

Washington, 27.03.98

For further information, contact: Suzanne Scholte, President, Defense Forum Foundation

3014 Castle Road, Falls Church, Virginia 22044 USA; Phone: 703-534-4313; Fax: 703-538-6149;


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