WASHINGTON - U.S. President Donald Trump, in a last-minute push to solidify Morocco's normalization with Israel, bestowed a rare award Friday on its king as Trump's administration rallied international support in a regional dispute.
Trump, who sees Arab recognition of Israel as a key overseas achievement of his presidency, last month broke decades of precedent by recognizing Morocco's full sovereignty over contested Western Sahara, with Morocco in turn saying it would normalize relations with the Jewish state.
The White House said it presented King Mohammed VI with the Legion of Merit, degree of Chief Commander, in a private ceremony in Washington in which Morocco's ambassador accepted.
The military award was created to honor allied leaders in World War II and had slid into obscurity until it was revived by Trump, who last month also presented it to the prime ministers of Australia, India and Japan.
"His vision and personal courage - including his decision to resume ties with the State of Israel - have positively reshaped the landscape of the Middle East and North Africa and ushered in a new era of security and prosperity for both our countries and the world," a White House statement said.
The State Department's top official on the Middle East, David Schenker, on Friday joined Morocco in a virtual conference on Western Sahara that highlighted Trump's position.
Forty nations participated, with 27 at the ministerial level, a joint statement said.
"Participants committed to continue their advocacy for a solution, using Morocco's autonomy plan as the sole framework for resolving the Western Sahara dispute," it said.
The countries taking part included Arab allies of Morocco and smaller developing nations but also France, Morocco's foreign ministry said.
President-elect Joe Biden has not committed to maintaining Trump's recognition of Moroccan sovereignty in Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony where tensions have simmered since the 1970s as the Algerian-backed Polisario Front fights for independence.
Morocco controls most of Western Sahara, but its sovereignty is not recognized by the United Nations.