The State Department yesterday denied that negotiations on the future of all U.S. bases in Spain had been broken off, but it refused to comment on a report that Spain has demanded that the United States remove three squadrons of 72 F16 fighter-bombers within 3 1/2 years in any case.
State Department spokeswoman Phyllis Oakley said the existence of "a difference of views" on the fate of the U.S. 401st Tactical Air Wing based outside Madrdid at Torrejon is "well known," adding, "We don't plan to comment on the details of the ongoing negotiations."
The Washington Post reported yesterday that Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez had declared the departure of the 401st Air Wing a "nonnegotiable" issue and unilaterally set a withdrawal date of three years after the present U.S. bases agreement expires in May.
The article said the demand, conveyed to the U.S. embassy in Madrid on Dec. 10, left a question mark over the future of other American naval and air bases in Rota and near Zaragoa and Seville as well as nine small communications facilities.
It said a December round of negotiations on the U.S. bases was postponed until an unspecified date in January after the Spanish conveyed to the U.S. ambassador in Spain, Reginald Bartholomew, the demand for the withdrawal of the 401st Air Wing.
Bartholomew called the Spanish demand unacceptable and said Washington needs time to reconsider its position on the overall negotiations, the article said.
Both the Spanish government and the State Department said yesterday the negotiations will continue. Oakley said the two sides were working on a date for the next round.
Chief spokesman for the Spanish government, Javier Solana, said the next round will be held "in the first weeks of January. Nothing has changed, at least in the view of the Spanish government," he said.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Inocencio Arias, referring to the reported Spanish demand that the F16s leave within 3 1/2 years, said Spain could not talk of such a deadline "if the United States has not accepted to remove the planes." He did not rule out the possibility that a deadline had been mentioned in informal conversations.
Oakley said it is the United States' "understanding" that the Spanish government still seeks to reach a base agreement and "to maintain a strong long-term defense relationship."
"Despite differences in our views, we value Spain as an ally and think both sides would be well-served by a constructive new defense agreement," she added.