US Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Moroccoâ€™s Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita signed a deal today aimen agreement todayÂ cementing the two countriesâ€™ defense relationship through the next decade.
Full details of the accord, signed during Esperâ€™s visit to Rabat, have not been publicized. But the Pentagon said it would allow the two countries to â€œimproveâ€ their military cooperation, with an emphasis on the annual African Lion multinational exercise led by the United StatesÂ and Morocco.
Moroccoâ€™s Foreign Ministry said the agreement will serve as a â€œroad map for defense cooperationâ€ between the two countries, both in terms of strategic partnership and â€œshared security goals.â€
â€œImproving the degree of military readinessâ€ is among the priorities, the countryâ€™s Royal Armed Forces said in a statement. During the visit, Esper met with Deputy Prime Minister Abdeltif Loudiyi and the inspector general of Moroccoâ€™s armed forces, Gen. Abdelfettah Louarak.
The two sides also discussed â€œregional problems, economic issues, and more,â€ according to the Pentagon.
Why it matters: The United StatesÂ is looking to build up its partnerships in North Africa amid Russiaâ€™s growing military presence on the Mediterranean, and amid both Moscow and Beijingâ€™s interests in Africa in general.
Todayâ€™s agreement follows a similar 10-year road map signed by Esper and Tunisian officials this week.
That plan included cooperation on areas such as freedom of navigation, sharing intelligenceÂ and disaster response operations, the Pentagon said, adding that the deal â€œtook two years to negotiateâ€ and could serve as a blueprint for future US agreements with other governments in Africa.
On Thursday, Esper made the first visit of a US defense secretary to Algeria since 2006. The trip was widely seen as gestureÂ to invite the former French colony Ââ€” one of the region’s top military spenders per capitaÂ â€” closer to the United States’Â strategic orbit.
Algeria has relied for decades on Russian arms sales. Longtime President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was ousted by popular protests last year, and the countryâ€™s draft constitution, if approved, would allow it to deploy its troops outside of the countryâ€™s borders.
What’s next:Â While the United StatesÂ formally considers Morocco and Tunisia non-NATO allies, it’s not clear Algeria intends to moveÂ to join its neighbors anytime soon.
Know more: Read about the US Africa Commandâ€™s latest assessment of foreign fighters and Russian hardware in the conflict in neighboring Libya.