Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar will be in Washington within a week to meet with President Bush for the second time this year to discuss Spain's willingness to offer logistical, naval and air transport support in the event of war against Iraq. The two will also talk about issues concerning Europe, Latin America and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
The like-minded presidents, who saw each other in Prague at the NATO summit meeting last month, decided to meet in Washington at the first opportunity -- which turns out to be Tuesday, right after the historic European Union enlargement summit, which begins Thursday in Copenhagen.
Spain has been one of the nations most dedicated to pushing for Turkey's membership in the EU. One sticking point has been Ankara's opposition to NATO collaboration in an envisioned European security and defense policy that would allow the EU to draw on the alliance's capabilities.
European diplomatic sources said that despite initial EU suggestions to have Turkey begin accession talks in mid-2005, a compromise may be reached to speed the process, perhaps starting talks by the end of 2003.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, leader of Turkey's new ruling party, was in Washington yesterday for meetings with Bush over the unresolved issue of the extent of Turkey's willingness to cooperate in a war against Iraq.
Last year, Spain and the United States signed the latest renewal and expansion of a bilateral defense agreement that has been in effect since 1953. Spain has already expressed its willingness to fully respect the agreement, allowing for full use of its naval base in Rota, in the south, as well as the Moron Air Base, near Rota, and Torrejon, another air base 20 miles west of Madrid, for overflights and fuel stops.
Spanish diplomatic sources said Spain would very much like to see the situation with Iraq solved peacefully, "but the burden is on [President Saddam] Hussein."
Madrid was favorable to dispatching fighter planes and aircraft carriers should the need arise, one diplomat explained. The participation of Spanish ground troops is not as likely, he added, because Spain is already committed to other conflict spots around the world.
Defense Minister Federico Trillo-Figueroa met with his U.S. counterpart, Donald H. Rumsfeld, during a working lunch last week, as well as with the U.S. national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice.
In addition to Bush, Aznar is scheduled to meet with Enrique Iglesias, president of the Inter-American Development Bank; Cesar Gaviria, secretary general of the Organization of American States; and Horst Koehler, managing director of the International Monetary Fund. Spain is the top foreign investor in Latin America.
"Aznar is going to come to Washington with a clear idea of the need to address the Latin American problem. With the exception of Chile, not one country is doing well," a senior Spanish diplomatic source said on Monday, while preparing for the visit.
Keeping Kosovo in Mind
Michael Steiner, the special U.N. representative in Kosovo, came to Washington this week for meetings with Secretary Colin L. Powell and other State Department officials to lobby for sustained U.S. engagement in the Serbian province for a few more years.
Although he insisted that what the United Nations and other international organizations are doing in Kosovo is a success story, he acknowledged that his cause was "a hard sell" at the moment, given the focus on the possibility of war with Iraq.
The U.N. official, who is German, said the crime rate in Kosovo was down. And he said there are now 105 banks open, with ATMs available. "For people who had lived in this gray area, which just a couple of years ago had next to nothing, these developments are quite fascinating," he told a small group of journalists over lunch Monday.
The issue of bringing Serbs back to the majority-Albanian province is still one of the major challenges ahead, he said, but about 6,000 Serbs already have returned to Kosovo and their language can be heard in the major cities.
Palestinian Keeps It Low-Key
Something must be afoot on the Middle East front, because Hanan Ashrawi, a human rights activist and member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, was in town this week on what appeared to be a very quiet and serious visit. She met with Rice, Powell and Vice President Cheney on Monday. There were no major appearances or news conferences scheduled for Ashrawi, who has been outspoken against human rights violations, violence and corruption.
Voice of Palestine radio in Ramallah quoted Ashrawi as saying yesterday that the "quartet committee" -- Powell, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan -- might issue a statement after it meets Dec. 20, saying it continues to seek a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. U.S. officials said they expect Bush to attend the session.
Israeli Speculation on Iraqi Arms
A senior Israeli diplomat said on Friday during a luncheon with Washington Post editors and reporters that he had no doubt "we don't have a full picture" of Iraq's capabilities concerning weapons of mass destruction. Speaking on background, he said there "was a lot of noise" about the possible leakage of such weaponry to terrorist organizations.
"My understanding is that there is much more than we can see and more than meets the eye," he said about Israeli intelligence on Iraq's potential. "What we know is enough, but we don't think it is advisable to share before the report comes out" -- a reference to Iraq's declaration of its activities and capabilities, and an analysis by U.N. experts on the data at hand.
"It is very important to know what to reveal, to whom to reveal it and when to reveal it," the diplomat said.