Viewing cable 05MADRID541, SPAIN: TIME TO DEFROST THE DEEP FREEZE?
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|05MADRID541||2005-02-10 16:04||2010-12-07 12:12||CONFIDENTIAL||Embassy Madrid|
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MADRID 000541 SIPDIS E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/10/2015 TAGS: PREL PGOV SP SUBJECT: SPAIN: TIME TO DEFROST THE DEEP FREEZE? Classified By: Charge d'Affaires J. Robert Manzanares; reasons 1.4 (B) and (D). ¶1. (C) Summary. After a tumultuous year in our bilateral relations with Spain, the Mission is considering how best to establish a more productive relationship with the Zapatero administration. The GOS scored early political points with the Spanish public by withdrawing Spanish forces from Iraq, attacking USG policy in Iraq, and breaking with the previous government's emphasis on transatlantic relations. More recently, however, the GOS has recognized the high domestic and international cost of its confrontational approach towards the USG and has made clear its desire to improve bilateral ties. We have insisted that such sentiments be backed up with actions, and the GOS responded by agreeing to participate in a PRT in Afghanistan, providing funds for the Iraq elections, agreeing to train Iraqi security officials in Spain, and toning down their criticism of USG foreign policy. In return for these gestures, the Zapatero Government is hoping for USG acknowledgement that ties are on the mend, preferably through the positive optics that would be generated by high-level meetings in Washington. ¶2. (C) We believe it makes sense to lock in the gains of the last two months by publicly recognizing Spain's positive steps, as we did through the meeting between Secretary Rumsfeld and DefMin Bono in Nice. We also suggest moving forward on areas of particular bilateral importance, such as counter-terrorism cooperation. Minister of Interior Jose Antonio Alonso and Minister of Justice Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar have both requested meetings in Washington in early 2005 for counter-terrorism discussions with USG counterparts and the country team strongly supports these requests. Similarly, we should encourage stronger military to military relations and commercial ties. Important differences remain with the Zapatero government, including his overtures to Cuba and Venezuela and Spain's continuing refusal to allow Spanish forces assigned to NATO commands to participate in operations in Iraq. We have also been frustrated by the sometimes erratic and uncoordinated nature of the Socialist administration, as demonstrated by the confusion surrounding DefMin Bono's recent visit to Venezuela. ¶3. (C) Despite these lingering concerns, we believe the time is right for calibrated re-engagement with the GOS in the hope that we can establish a greater degree of influence on GOS policy and, when possible, steer them towards a more positive course. Zapatero's domestic position has strengthened over the last year and his approval rating of 63% suggests we will be dealing with his government for several years to come, so it is in our interest to improve the working relationship with him. Alternatively, USG snubs could trigger a nationalist backlash in Spain and encourage Zapatero to withhold cooperation with USG initiatives. End Summary. //A Tough Year// ¶4. (C) The first ten months of the Zapatero administration have proven among the most difficult periods in U.S.-Spanish relations in many years. Throughout the most frustrating episodes, the USG won points for sticking to the high road and refusing to be baited into public disputes with the GOS. Despite our efforts to keep productive ties on track, senior GOS officials continued to make unhelpful remarks throughout 2004, particularly with respect to the U.S. role in Iraq. There was also friction regarding regional issues, such as Spain's leadership of an effort to ease EU restrictive measures against Cuba and Zapatero's engagement of Chavez in Venezuela. Though Zapatero drew massive public support for his decision to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq (and his public approval rating remains high at 63%), he has been criticized for subsequent missteps that have soured relations with Washington. ¶5. (C) The turning point in Zapatero's approach to the U.S. came when Ambassador Argyros declined to attend the October 12 national day parade, putting the public spotlight on our disappointment with the tone and direction of Spanish foreign policy. This episode undermined GOS assertions in the press that U.S.-Spanish ties had not suffered as a result of Spain's withdrawal from Iraq and forced the Zapatero administration to acknowledge tensions in one of Spain's most important bilateral relationships. While polls consistently demonstrate widespread hostility among Spaniards towards U.S. foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East, the public still expects the GOS to maintain healthy working relations with Washington. The U.S.-Spanish rift left Zapatero open to withering opposition criticism that he had ruined that relationship and relegated Spain to second-class status in foreign affairs. //Spain Looking to Repair Relations// ¶6. (C) Since November, GOS officials at all levels have made clear their desire to restore strong bilateral ties, most recently when the MFA's Director General for Foreign Policy (Under Secretary for Political Affairs equivalent) told Charg bluntly, "We want back in." In responding to these overtures, we have noted that the Spanish Government's positions and public commentary since Zapatero took office have generated significant skepticism within the USG regarding Spain's readiness to work with us on the issues that matter most, such as in the War on Terrorism. We told our GOS interlocutors that we were prepared to move ahead on issues of mutual importance and that unambiguous, positive actions by Spain would be the best signal to the U.S. Government that Spain too was ready to get past our differences. ¶7. (C) In the last several weeks, the GOS has undertaken a series of measures that appear aimed at improving relations with the USG. The most important of these is Spain's decision (not yet made public) to lead a Provincial Reconstruction Team and contribute to a forward support base in western Afghanistan (after months of prodding by USG officials, including numerous Embassy demarches). Spain has taken other actions as well. The Spanish Government contributed $20 million to the Iraq elections (part of its $300 million pledge made during the 2003 Iraq Donors Conference) and issued a positive public assessment of the elections themselves. Prior to the vote, Spain had, at the USG's request, engaged Arab governments to urge them to press Iraqi Sunnis to participate in the elections. The GOS also deployed King Juan Carlos to transmit positive messages, such as the King's January 13 declaration at a reception for the Madrid diplomatic corps that the U.S. was a "fundamental point of reference for Spanish foreign policy" and that the GOS desired "improved bilateral ties at every level." ¶8. (C) The Embassy has welcomed these gestures, while making clear to our GOS counterparts that we are still troubled by mixed signals on issues we thought had been resolved. For example, Zapatero canceled a planned stop in Caracas to meet with Chavez at our urging, but then dispatched Defense Minister Bono on a "secret" trip to Venezuela to promote sales of military and civilian equipment. Also, on Iraq, FM Moratinos and other government and Socialist party figures still occasionally refer to the conflict as an "illegal war" and have joined like-minded EU leaders in pressing for a timetable for the U.S. to withdraw troops by the end of 2005. ¶9. (C) Some issues, notably Cuba and to a lesser degree Venezuela, will likely remain points of friction in the bilateral relationship. The driving force behind Spanish overtures to Castro and Chavez is a combination of the Socialists, desire to satisfy left-wing constituents who remain attached to romantic notions of Latin American revolutionary movements and a naive faith in Spain's ability to influence the two leaders in a positive direction. We have made clear the USG's skepticism and concern regarding the Spanish approach and believe we may succeed in limiting GOS interaction with Caracas to commercial rather than political collaboration. There is less cause for optimism on Cuba, where Zapatero's team appears intent on reviving "constructive engagement" at almost any cost. //Defining USG Objectives in Spain// ¶10. (C) Despite our turbulent relations with Zapatero, we have continued to engage the GOS constructively at the working level on the issues that matter most to us, with positive results. Most importantly, the Zapatero Government has not placed restrictions on U.S. forces access to Rota Naval Air Station and Moron Air Base, and has continued to issue blanket overflight clearances for U.S. forces transiting Spanish airspace, including to support operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. ¶11. (C) Military to military relations are strong in other respects and the uniformed services are among our strongest proponents in the current government. They are still smarting from their sudden and ignominious withdrawal from Iraq and have been forward leaning in recommending deployments to Afghanistan as a means of demonstrating their reliability as an ally and their commitment to the War on Terror. We want to strengthen this important bilateral relationship, for example by fixing a date for High-Level Bilateral Defense Committee talks in Washington. ¶12. (C) The USG also has a strong interest in deepening its counter-terrorism cooperation with the GOS, particularly given the large and dangerous presence in the country of extremist organizations affiliated with al-Qaeda. In the wake of the March 11 train bombings, the GOS has clamped down on such organizations, leading to 117 arrests of suspected Islamic terrorists in 2004. However, judicial and investigative gaps in the Spanish system and the burgeoning population of North African immigrants will make Spain an active front in the War on Terror for years to come. ¶13. (C) Judicial and law-enforcement counter-terrorism cooperation with Spain is good and Attorney General Ashcroft visited in December to improve it further by signing the bilateral protocol to the U.S.-EU Mutual Legal Assistance and Extradition Treaties. Also in 2004, the GOS requested talks with the USG on forming a joint counter-terrorism investigative unit. This would be difficult for the USG to implement for technical reasons, but a DOJ team met with Spanish counterparts in December to identify mechanisms for improving information sharing and judicial cooperation. We can solidify our counter-terrorism relations by inviting Minister of the Interior Jose Antonio Alonso - a close friend of President Zapatero - to Washington at the earliest possible date. Alonso's staff has made clear Alonso desires such an invitation. Minister of Justice Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar has also expressed interest in visiting Washington to discuss improved counter-terrorism cooperation. ¶14. (C) We have strong commercial interests in Spain as well, with a business community that is staunchly supportive of U.S. investment and concerned that Zapatero's policies will lead to a decrease in U.S. business involvement. At every opportunity, we work to cultivate relations with GOS trade officials and encourage them to maintain a business-friendly environment in Spain. //What Does Spain Want?// ¶15. (C) The GOS has gotten the message that a conflictive relationship with the USG is not in its best interest domestically or internationally. In the short term, they want a signal from us acknowledging their recent positive steps. In the GOS view, this could take the form of meetings in Washington in the next few months for Defense Minister Bono, Foreign Minister Moratinos, and later in the year, President Zapatero. Spain would also seek public statements recognizing its contributions in Afghanistan and Iraq reconstruction, and inclusion in U.S. councils with allies on issues such as the Middle East conflict, the Darfur crisis, matters related to the Greater Middle East, and other issues of mutual interest. ¶16. (C) As an alternative to such high-level engagement, we could instead make a concerted effort at a lower level to acknowledge each Spanish gesture as a step in the right direction. This could take the form of a letter or a phone call from a USG official to thank the GOS for a specific action, such as its participation in the PRT in Afghanistan and its donation of funds to the Iraq elections. At a minimum, we strongly recommend agreeing to requests for meetings in Washington by Minister of the Interior Jose Antonio Alonso and Minister of Justice Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar to discuss counter-terrorism cooperation. The objective of this calibrated approach would be to note progress on issues of interest to the USG and create momentum for higher level meetings while not giving the GOS the impression that we will overlook remaining points of conflict, such as President Zapatero's possible visit to Venezuela in March. //Steering Relations Toward a Productive Course// ¶17. (C) The USG will not re-establish with the Zapatero Government the deep and close relationship we had with the Aznar administration. However, we are currently in a strong position to influence Zapatero towards a more productive course that achieves U.S. interests in Spain and other parts of the world. We have insisted with our GOS contacts that improved relations mean more than photo opportunities and expressions of goodwill; a real partnership implies positive actions. Those within the GOS who accepted this message counseled Zapatero to undertake the series of positive gestures described above. We believe we should now lock in these advances and respond favorably to these gestures in order to steer Zapatero towards supporting other USG objectives. ¶18. (C) This may be a gradual and sometimes frustrating effort, since Zapatero's political instincts and those of other Socialist leaders, combined with their lingering insecurity over the nature of their electoral victory, will at times tempt them to emphasize their differences with USG policies. For the moment, the USG's balanced use of carrots and sticks with the GOS has gotten Spain pointed in the right direction. It is our sense that this opening will not last much longer and that eventually national pride and humiliation over USG snubs will lead Zapatero to suspend Spanish overtures and turn a deaf ear to USG requests for cooperation. MANZANARES .