Moratinos, Spain's seasoned negotiator, leaves office

20th October 2010, Comments 0 comments

Miguel Angel Moratinos, replaced as Spain's foreign minister on Wednesday, is known as a tireless negotiator who first gained respect as the EU's Middle East envoy and recently helped broker the release of Cuban dissidents.

One of the few ministers who had kept his job since Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero first took office in 2004, Moratinos was replaced by Trinidad Jimenez, currently health minister, in a broad cabinet reshuffle.

It was not immediately clear what role the 59-year-old, who remains a member of parliament, might now take on.

For six years, Moratinos had implemented Zapatero's policies of rapprochement, notably with neighbouring Morocco, with the United States, with Britain over Gibraltar, with the Venezuelan government of President Hugo Chavez and with Cuba.

In April 2007, Moratinos made a ground-breaking visit to Cuba -- the first by an EU foreign minister since the bloc imposed sanctions on the island in 2003 after a crackdown by Fidel Castro in which 75 dissidents were arrested, drawing the ire of Washington.

During a visit to Havana last July, he helped negotiate a deal between the communist regime and the Roman Catholic Church that secured the release of 52 of the 75 dissidents, many of whom have since arrived in Spain.

He also sought to heal the wounds with the administration of then president George W. Bush over Spain's decision to withdraw its troops from Iraq in 2004 and its refusal to recognise the independence of Kosovo.

But his departure comes amid new tensions with Rabat over Spain's disputed North African enclaves, over Gibraltar and with Chavez over Basque separatists allegedly residing in Venezuela.

Born on June 8, 1951, married and a father of three, Moratinos has a degree in law and political science from the University of Madrid and is a fluent English and French speaker who also knows some Russian.

Plump and jovial, he was recently described as "the happy Buddha" by one opposition member of parliament.

He started out as director of the foreign ministry's Eastern Europe Coordination Desk (1974-79), then became first secretary at the Spanish Embassy in Belgrade before moving to a posting in Rabat in 1984.

By 1991, he was director general of the Institute for Cooperation with the Arab World and briefly served as Spanish ambassador to Israel before becoming EU Special Representative for the Middle East peace process in December 1996.

There, he won a reputation for being a skilled mediator to keep contacts going between Israel and the Palestinians after the intifada erupted in September 2000.

He helped to peacefully resolve a face-off at the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem in 2002, with besieged Palestinians leaving the sanctuary of the church for European exile.

As the Israeli government moved to exclude Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Moratinos continued to visit him in his shattered compound at Ramallah, to the irritation of the then Israeli government of Ariel Sharon.

As Spanish foreign minister, Moratinos made several trips to Beirut and to powerful neighbour Syria in a bid to help end Lebanon's long-standing political crisis.

More recently, he has sought to play a role in EU efforts to resolve the Middle East conflict.

© 2010 AFP

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