Biden on highest-level US visit to Spain since 2001

7th May 2010, Comments 0 comments

US Vice President Joe Biden met Spain's King Juan Carlos on Friday at the start of the highest-level US visit to the country in nine years.

Biden travelled to the royal Zarzuela palace after arriving in Madrid, where he was met by Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos.

He flew in from Brussels, where he addressed the European Parliament in a speech in which he warned that Iran's nuclear drive threatens a Middle East arms race and sought to reassure Europe of its importance as a US ally.

On Saturday, Biden is scheduled to meet with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero for talks expected to focus on the war in Afghanistan, the Greek debt crisis and the meeting of the G-20 in Toronto in June.

Also on the agenda are US efforts to reach a new deal with the EU to allow US authorities to again access to Europeans' personal data in anti-terrorism probes, according to Spanish media.

Biden is the most senior member of the Obama administration to visit Spain, which holds the rotating presidency of the European Union until the end of next month.

He is also the most senior US official to come to Madrid since president George W. Bush in 2001, when conservative prime minister Jose Maria Aznar was in power in Spain.

Relations between the Bush administration and Madrid plummeted when Zapatero, a socialist, withdrew Spanish troops from Iraq after he was elected to succeed Aznar in 2004.

Hopes had been raised in Spain of stronger US ties with the arrival of Barack Obama in the White House last year.

But Madrid suffered a diplomatic setback when the White House announced on February 1 that Obama would not attend an EU-US summit in the Spanish capital.

Zapatero had made the summit a priority of his country's six months at the helm of the EU's presidency.

Obama's change of plan added to concerns among European leaders that Washington was looking more across the Pacific to China and Asia than across the Atlantic to Europe.

On Thursday, Biden told the European Parliament that the Obama administration sees a strong and active Europe as an ally.

"The Obama-Biden administration has no doubt about, and strongly supports, a vibrant EU, we believe it's absolutely essential to US prosperity and security," he said, while acknowledging European misgivings on some US initiatives.

Before returning to Washington on Saturday, Biden is scheduled to visit a military base outside Madrid to meet with Spanish troops who are about to leave for Afghanistan.

The Spanish government announced in February it was sending 511 more troops to Afghanistan, boosting its contingent with NATO-led forces fighting Taliban insurgents to nearly 1,600.

© 2010 AFP

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