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Spain Keeps a Vigilant Eye on Al Qaeda Threat

By Nora Boustany
Wednesday, April 20, 2005; Page A21

Although 75 members of al Qaeda have been arrested in Spain, the terrorist group's efforts to recruit followers among Muslim residents of that country remains a threat, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos told Washington Post reporters and editors last week.

Moratinos, who also met with Secretary of State CondoleezzaRice while on a brief visit to Washington, said Spain had reached agreements with most Arab countries to launch an "early warning system" to keep track of any movements by possible al Qaeda suspects planning subversive activity in Spain.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speaks with Miguel Moratinos, the Spanish foreign minister. (Yuri Gripas -- Reuters)

Read Nora Boustany's previous Diplomatic Dispatches columns.

A source of special concern, he said, has been the surging migration of North African youths seeking employment opportunities in Europe. Moratinos said his government was being very vigilant for fear of al Qaeda operatives infiltrating the country via this route. Spain has given Morocco $40 million for a system that will help control and monitor the country's southern border.

"The Maghreb is becoming the first stop for illegal migrants from other African countries," he said, referring to the continent's northern region, which includes Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria. Economic growth in Spain has diminished the number of Spaniards filling low-paying jobs and has drawn foreign laborers to the market, he explained.

The relationship between Washington and Madrid has been somewhat frosty since the current socialist prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, won in a landslide last spring and unilaterally pulled Spanish troops out of Iraq. But Moratinos insisted that his country wanted to "create a real partnership" with the Bush administration.

"The United States and Spain have a responsibility to share views, and to share strategy on what is going on in that part of the world," he said of developments in the Western Hemisphere, especially in South America, where most countries were once Spanish colonies and Spain is the second-largest foreign investor after the United States.

Moratinos defended Spain's decision to sell troop transport planes and naval patrol boats to Venezuela, where President Hugo Chavez has angered U.S. officials by making threatening comments about the United States, forming an alliance with Fidel Castro in Cuba and cracking down on press freedom.

The minister asserted that the military transport would not be used for "offensive purposes," but to ferry Venezuelan soldiers within the country and to control smuggling. Spain's decision to engage Chavez rather than shun him was not "some crazy policy," he said, but a result of his government's conviction that it was preferable to work with a country's leadership rather isolate it.

"The only way to succeed is to engage," Moratinos said. He pointed out that U.S. officials had chosen to engage Libya and its leader, Moammar Gaddafi, as a means of ridding the oil-exporting North African country of its weapons of mass destruction.

While acknowledging that Spain is not a superpower, he also said it did not want to blindly follow U.S. policies or demands.

The Italian government, however, is on a different page. Italy's new foreign minister, Gianfranco Fini, said in an interview last Wednesday that his country would not make any move concerning the deployment of its 3,300 troops in Iraq without consulting the United States first.

"There are theaters in which Italy plays a role in symphony with the United States," Fini said following meetings with Rice and Vice President Cheney. "The more the Iraqis are able to ensure their own security, the easier it would be to work out the time frame and the modalities for phasing out. But they have to be decided together, not unilaterally but with a consensus."

Fini said the situation in Iraq remained "complex" but that Italy would follow an international agreement reached in Egypt last year that outlined three stages in the process of "giving Iraq back to the Iraqis."

"When we make a commitment, we maintain it," the minister said. "We had talked of giving Iraq back to the Iraqis by 2005. The road has been paved, and I think the worst has passed, but it may take a little longer, beyond the end of this year."

Costa Rican Joins Hudson Institute

The former Costa Rican ambassador, Jaime Daremblum, has joined the Hudson Institute as a senior fellow and director of its new Center for Latin American Studies. Daremblum served as ambassador here from 1998 to 2004 and then moved to the Organization of American States as senior adviser until the end of last year.

Daremblum, a lawyer by training, graduated from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Massachusetts, where he earned a doctorate in law and diplomacy. The new center at the Hudson Institute will organize seminars and conferences to exchange ideas among Latin American leaders and academics and their American counterparts.

Daremblum is on leave as a senior partner at the law firm of Daremblum & Herrera in Costa Rica. He has written occasional columns from Washington for Costa Rica's major newspapers and has also worked as an economist at the International Monetary Fund.

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