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Viewing cable 05MADRID541, SPAIN: TIME TO DEFROST THE DEEP FREEZE?

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
05MADRID541 2005-02-10 16:04 2010-12-07 12:12 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Madrid
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
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 .