WASHINGTON – Trade, terrorism and war were the main topics as President Bush and Morocco's King Mohammed (search) VI met in the Oval Office and over lunch Thursday.
Last month, the United States and Morocco (search) signed a free trade agreement (search) that would end many tariffs on U.S. goods flowing into the nation. The administration sees the agreement, which still must be approved by Congress, as a building block in Bush's efforts to promote democracy and economic reform throughout the Middle East.
"The president emphasized to the king his desire to see the free trade agreement ratified this year," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said.
The two leaders also discussed the Middle East peace effort, regional issues, ways to ensure security and elections in Iraq and Afghanistan and the war on terrorism. The president also praised the king for reforms to protect the rights of women and children that have been undertaken in Morocco.
However, after suicide bombings in Casablanca last May that killed 33 bystanders and a dozen bombers, the Moroccan parliament passed anti-terrorism legislation that Human Rights Watch says compromised human rights.
In the past year, Moroccan security forces have detained thousands of citizens, mostly Islamists, and have started trials against them on terrorism charges, the group said. Local and international human rights organizations have reported cases in which detainees were allegedly ill-treated, denied basic due process rights and subjected to unfair trials.
In recent years, Morocco has made strides in the protection of human rights, said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa division.
"Last year's terrorist attacks in Casablanca raised serious security concerns, but Morocco's crackdown on civil liberties is a step in the wrong direction," she said.