Gibraltarians to join Rock talks for first time
7 December 2004, MADRID - The 300-year row between Spain and Britain over Gibraltar will take a new turn on Wednesday as Gibraltarians join negotiations for the first time.
7 December 2004
MADRID - The 300-year row between Spain and Britain over Gibraltar will take a new turn on Wednesday as Gibraltarians join negotiations for the first time.
In 'talks about talks' between Madrid and London, Gibraltar's chief minister, Peter Caruana, will be present.
This marks a radical change in the process of deciding what is to be done with the Rock, British daily The Guardian reported.
A British Foreign Office spokesman said meeting at Chevening House in Kent would be to discuss the creation of a new forum for dialogue that would include the Gibraltarians.
"This forum would provide Gibraltar with its own distinct voice, and would have an open agenda ... Future discussion over Gibraltar would take place through a three-sided dialogue rather than a bilateral negotiation," he said.
But Opposition groups on the Rock are suspicious Caruana may concede on the key issue of sovereignty.
Britain and Spain agreed two years ago that, in principle, they would be prepared to share sovereignty over the two-and-a-quarter square miles of territory at the mouth of the Mediterranean.
But that move provoked almost unanimous opposition of Gibraltarians.
Caruana called a referendum in which 99 percent of the Rock's voters said they did not want any form of shared sovereignty with their old enemy, Spain.
But with the change of government in Spain earlier this year, which saw José María Aznar's hardline conservative People's party replaced by José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero's Socialists, Madrid has changed tactics radically.
The Socialists have tried to woo the support of Gibraltarians, while not dropping their traditional claim to sovereignty.
The new government has, therefore, dropped Madrid's traditional insistence that it can only deal directly with London and invited Caruana to the table.
"That is not an easy thing for traditional Spanish diplomacy to digest," Spain's El Mundo newspaper commented.
"It is certainly the first time there has been a meeting like this in recent years," a spokesman for the British embassy in Madrid said.
A spokesman for Caruana said he was looking forward to "this long-awaited opportunity to try and establish a new process of dialogue on terms and for purposes acceptable to and safe for Gibraltar".
He denied accusations that he might be preparing to give way on sovereignty. "The Gibraltar government's position on sovereignty and the purpose of dialogue has been made clear and is clear."
Opposition groups on the Rock have complained that the parameters of the talks have not been made clear.
"It appears that these are still in the air. We shall, therefore, follow developments closely," opposition spokesman Fabian Picardo told the Gibraltar Chronicle.
The Foreign Office's senior Europe diplomat, Dominick Chilcott, and his Spanish counterpart, José Pons, will also be at the meeting.
The three-way approach was agreed by the British foreign secretary, Jack Straw, and his Spanish counterpart, Miguel Angel Moratinos, at a meeting in Madrid in October.
At that meeting they also agreed to try to drive through a new agreement that would allow for the Rock's airport to be jointly used by both Spain and Gibraltar.
This would help revitalise the economy of the Spanish towns near Gibraltar, while also increasing traffic at the airport.
Caruana has recently been negotiating a new constitution for Gibraltar, to replace that written in 1969 with the British government.
While details of the talks remain confidential, Caruana has insisted that they are going well.
Subject: Spanish news