Spanish foreign minister defends Gibraltar visit

23rd July 2009, Comments 0 comments

The visit did not squander the 300-year-struggle for Gibraltar. Instead, it showed Spain’s willingness to dialogue and cooperation to come to a solution, says Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos.

Madrid – Spain's foreign minister defended Wednesday his historic visit to Gibraltar, saying in a radio interview that dialogue was the best way to win back sovereignty over the disputed British territory.

"It is very difficult with isolation and confrontation to win the hearts and minds of Gibraltarians," Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos told public radio a day after he became the first Spanish minister to step foot on the rocky outcrop since it was captured by English troops in 1704.

"We have not renounced one millimetre of our claim but instead we have advanced kilometres in what can be the dialogue and cooperation which can open the door to a definitive solution," the socialist minister added.

Moratinos reached agreements on judicial, environment, security and customs issues during his talks in Gibraltar with his British counterpart David Miliband and Gibraltar Chief Minister Peter Caruana.

It was the third meeting at the ministerial level of the so-called tripartite forum between Britain, Gibraltar and Spain set up by Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero shortly after he came to power in 2004.

The forum avoids the issue of sovereignty and instead focuses on issues of concern to the roughly 30,000 residents of the tiny territory on Spain's southern coast.

Meetings of the tripartite forum have led to better airline connections to Gibraltar, improved mobile connections, easier cross-border traffic and the end to a long-running spat over pension payments to former Spanish dockers on the Rock.

"Gibraltarians see that Spain in the 21st century improves, changes, opens new horizons, and what they should feel is that alone, isolated, they can suffer a great deal," said Moratinos.

"Once they see the capacity and the initiative on the part of Spanish society, that they get the sense that they are respected, we will have more opportunities and capacity to reach a definitive solution," he added.

Spain's main opposition Popular Party (PP) and its conservative press have strongly criticised Moratinos's visit to Gibraltar.

The PP called it a "terrible mistake" that could set a precedent for treating the territory as a sovereign state while daily newspaper ABC said the "government squandered in one day 300 years of the struggle for Gibraltar".

Spain ceded Gibraltar to Britain in 1713 under the Treaty of Utrecht but has long argued that it should be returned to Spanish sovereignty. London has said it will not renounce sovereignty against the wishes of Gibraltarians.

General Francisco Franco closed Spain's border with Gibraltar in 1969 in protest at a referendum confirming allegiance to Britain. It was not fully reopened until 1985, a decade after the death of the right-wing dictator.

Relations between Britain and Spain over Gibraltar have been strained in recent years over the docking there of a damaged British nuclear submarine in 2000 and by visits to the territory by members of the British royal family.

AFP / Expatica

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