Putting a nice face to tripartite cooperation, while seeking to damage Gibraltar elsewhere

While the Chief Minister was preparing to accept the Cordoba agreement, which included paying uprated Spanish pensions, the Spanish negotiators in the tripartite process were, elsewhere, quietly trying to damage Gibraltar's role as a naval base.

The principal Spanish negotiator Jose Pons, director for Europe at the Spanish foreign ministry, was urging the USA not to use Gibraltar for their submarines, and instead, to use Rota, as we first published yesterday following Wikileaks which have revealed hitherto confidential exchanges between Madrid and Washington.

In fact it does not matter who the Spanish negotiator was, what matters is that they are prepared to negotiate what they think is in their interest as regards Gibraltar, in the tripartite process putting a nice face to cooperation, but in other issues, unknown to the Gibraltar government, trying to fire a broadside at Gibraltar, as with the submarines.

It was in July 2006 that a US submarine was to visit Gibraltar.And the Spanish senior official at the foreign ministry in Madrid was telling the US ambassador of Spanish concern about the visit.

It is not that the Spanish government is concerned about such submarines being dangerous. It is simply that, as with other issues, they do not like Gibraltar to be important in any respect, so it was then that they asked the Americans not to use the Rock and instead to use Rota, as submarines could use the facilities there without arousing public concern. This is because military activities are less exposed to ecologists etc in Rota, but in Gibraltar it is easier to see what is going on.

When considering the double-faced Spanish offer, the American armed forces told the Spanish that Spain did not have authority over questions related to Gibraltar.

As regards the submarine in question, the visit to Gibraltar carried on regardless - and the Spanish director for Europe made his formal protest to the US ambassador.

In a telegram to the Spanish government, the US ambassador said on 31 July that the USA would continue to send vessels to Gibraltar whenever convenient and noted that the UK government was delighted with the submarine visits to Gibraltar.

The US told Madrid that they would cease to send submarines to Rota if the buereaucratic requirements were excessive.

They went on to take note that the Spanish government had expressed the preference that the submarines called at Rota instead of the Rock. But if the Spanish were to become over-bureaucratic, Gibraltar would become a more attractive alternative.

It would appear that the Spanish adopted a position acceptable to the Americans, although this has not been confirmed, but the fact is that 93% of US vessels used Spanish ports and only 7% used Gibraltar - this despite a PSOE electoral commitment of not allowing 'another Tireless in Spanish waters.'

So, why have two US nuclear-powered submarines recently been to Gibraltar?

It could be, as the Americans say, that Gibraltar possesses a type of oil which certain US vessels make use of and which is not available in Rota, while the depth in Gbraltar waters is greater than in Rota.

At the time, Madrid had been urging other NATO allies not to use Gibraltar, such as Germany and the Low countries.

The US policy is to be grateful to Spain for putting at their dsposal Spanish ports, siding with Spanish national concerns and to be 'inflexible' when defending their right to call at Gibraltar.