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MOROCCO: For cheap Saudi oil, Rabat broke ties with Iran, cracked down on Shiites, leaked cable says

December 6, 2010 |  7:12 am

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At Saudi Arabia's urging, Morocco broke ties with Iran and began a domestic campaign against Moroccan Shiites in exchange for economic trade-offs, an Egyptian diplomat told sources at the U.S. Embassy in Rabat, according to a leaked U.S. diplomatic cable published by the Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar.

"[The diplomat] said goading Iran, a country with which it had limited economic interests, and demonizing the Shi'a, a powerless minority group, was a small price for Morocco to pay for a strategy that could have major payoffs," the April 2009 cable read.

In exchange for active Moroccan support, Saudi Arabia allegedly promised to ensure the flow of subsidized oil and compensate for the loss in direct foreign investment in Morocco resulting from the global financial crisis.

The diplomat, whose name had been redacted from the cable, also said that the domestic campaign against Shiites was intended to neutralize opposition groups in the municipal elections and reassert King Mohammed VI's authority as a religious leader.

Morocco broke ties with Iran in March 2009, accusing Tehran of using its embassy in Rabat as a base for spreading Shiite Islam. The formal break in relations was followed by a crackdown on Morocco's tiny Shiite minority, which resulted in the closure of religious schools and the arrest of hundreds of people.

The diplomatic source quoted in the leaked cable said a former Iranian ambassador had used the embassy as a regional base for visiting African countries, where he gave lectures and offered scholarships to Iran for promising Shiite scholars.

Egypt and Iran have a history of strained relations, and the cable notes that the diplomat may have had ulterior motives for informing the Americans.

In other cables leaked by the watchdog site WikiLeaks, Egyptian President Mosni Mubarak was quoted as telling American diplomats that the Iranians are "liars" and pose a threat to the Arab world.

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut

Photo: Moroccan King Mohammed VI, right, meets with the Saudi crown prince, Sultan ibn Abdulaziz, in Agadir, Morocco. Credit: Associated Press

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