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Mauritania - Foreign Relations

The foreign policy of Mauritania is marked by the situation of the country at the point of contact between the Arab and Berber worlds and the African space. A founding member of the Organization of African Unity and then of the African Union since May 1963, the country acceded to the Arab League in November 1973 and participated in the creation of the Arab Maghreb Union in February 1989. The authorities Mauritanians highlight the Arab-Muslim identity of Mauritania, which has also been a member of the Organization of the Islamic Community since its creation in September 1969.

When it chose to leave the Economic Community of West African States in December 1999, Mauritania continued to participate in organizations that bring it closer to its sub-Saharan neighbors, such as the Community of Sahelo-Saharan States, Organization for the Development of the Senegal River or the Standing Inter-State Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel.

Historically, the question of Western Sahara and relations with Israel have played an important role in the country's foreign policy. Since its withdrawal from the Saharawi territory, Mauritania has re-balanced its relations with Morocco and Algeria and is claiming a policy of positive neutrality. Diplomatic relations with Israel, meanwhile, were frozen following the Israeli-Palestinian war in December 2008 and January 2009 and broke off in March 2010.

More recently, Mauritania has been involved in the coordination of the Sahelian countries for security and development. While holding the presidency of the African Union since January 2014, in February 2014 it initiated the G5 Sahel, with Mali, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso. It is also a party to the Nouakchott process, which groups eleven states under the aegis of the African Union.

Mauritania also participates in the Euro-Mediterranean bodies. Since July 1990, she has been involved in the 5 + 5 dialogue. She joined the Barcelona Process in November 1995 and became a full member in November 2007, while continuing to belong to the African Caribbean and Pacific countries affected by the Cotonou Agreement of June 2000.

It is also a party to the Mediterranean Dialogue of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization established in December 1994.

Relations between the European Union and Mauritania are based on the Cotonou Agreement of June 2000. In addition, in September 2011, the European Union adopted a Sahel security and development strategy covering Mauritania, Mali and Niger. It was expanded in Chad and Burkina Faso when it was updated in November 2013.

In this context, the Eleventh European Development Fund provides for an allocation of € 195 million for the period 2014-2020, making the European Union the first international donor in Mauritania. Three sectors of concentration have been identified, linked to the third poverty reduction strategy framework adopted by the Mauritanian State for the period 2011 to 2015: food security and sustainable agriculture, the rule of law and health.

Mauritania is also an important partner of the European Union in the field of fisheries. In July 2012 the European Commission initialed a protocol to the Fisheries and Partnership Agreement between the European Union and Mauritania providing for the possibility for the European fleet to fish in Mauritanian waters in exchange for aid to the sector Fisheries and the preservation of the marine environment. This agreement was renewed on 16 November 2015 for a period of 4 years.

Mauritania is eligible for the European Union Emergency Trust Fund for Stability and Combating the Root Causes of Irregular Migration and the Displaced Persons in Africa, created at the November Valletta Summit 2015. This fund is endowed with 1.8 billion euros of European funding, of which 1 billion is devoted to the Sahel and Lake Chad.

One month before Mauritania reported its first case of Covid-19, on 02 February 2020 the UAE pledged an aid injection of $2 billion to Nouakchott. It is difficult to exaggerate how much influence Abu Dhabi secured through this financial assistance to Mauritania, a country with a $5.2 billion GDP. As the Clingendael Institute’s Jalel Harchaoui told me in an interview, Mauritania receiving almost half of its GDP in one shot from the UAE “creates a level of sway, aura, and leverage on the part of Abu Dhabi that is hard to fathom.” A sign of the UAE’s influential hand in Nouakchott came three days after the UAE-Israel accord’s announcement when Mauritania’s foreign ministry praised Abu Dhabi’s “wisdom and good judgment” for normalising ties with Israel. "The UAE possesses absolute sovereignty and complete independence in conducting its relations and assessing the positions it takes in accordance with its national interest and the interests of Arabs and Muslims." In this largely waterless, impoverished, and conflict-ridden part of the African continent, Abu Dhabi specialises in using its financial clout to acquire diplomatic and symbolic assistance from local governments in order to advance the UAE’s grander foreign policy aims. For Abu Dhabi, Sahelian countries which have come under growing Emirati influence are useful when it comes to navigating dangerous waters.

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