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Spain reiterates support for Annan plan on Syria

KUWAIT CITY, June 13: The Spanish Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Gonzalo de Benito, described the situation in Syria as ‘one of the most difficult’ and uniquely challenging issues at the forefront of the international agenda today.

Having participated in the Friends of Syria meeting, a conference of foreign ministers held in Istanbul, Turkey, he reiterated the three things the International Community agrees on. “One, is to support Joint Envoy Kofi Annan’s plan. We would like to see this plan implemented at least in the most essential point, that is, to stop the violence in Syria. It is difficult, but it can be done if the regime wants to stop violence.” Annan’s six-point plan calls for a ceasefire, military withdrawals from towns, the release of political prisoners, access for media and humanitarian organisation and a Syrian-led political process to negotiate transition to a new government.

“The second point is we need Russia on the side of the international community”, he said drawing attention to the fact that without Russia’s support no plan of action could be approved at the UN’s Security Council.

“The third point is that we call the opposition together to get as much unified as they can and to look into the future. It is very important that the international community can talk to the opposition as a whole,” he informed.

Commenting on the difficulty of the situation at a press conference held to mark his state visit, he remarked, “We all would like for the violence to stop tomorrow. But we are not in a case similar to that of Libya. That was a different scenario, this is a different crisis. In Libya a military intervention was possible, the Libyan state was considerably weaker and the opposition was more unified; this is not the case for Syria.”

The Friends of Syria group has created a taskforce to work on the future of Syria and the rebuilding of the Syrian economy and institutions. “We have had only one meeting in Abu Dhabi about 10 days ago but we will continue working in this because as important as it is to find a solution to the crisis it is also important that we think forward about the future of Syria.”

He stated that there were several scenarios in the region which attract the interest of the EU and GCC ministers. “On 25 June, Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the 27 Euro zone countries and Ministers from the Gulf countries will meet in Luxembourg to discuss economic and political cooperation, as well situations in the region, like Syria and the Middle East Peace process.”

Commenting on the outcome of the Arab Spring, he shared the Spanish government’s support for governments that were more inclusive, tolerant, that guaranteed economic development and social justice for its people while being less totalitarian regimes. “We are very much engaged and have contributed with 300 million euros to the European Investment Bank for the countries of South and Mediterranean. We are having a lot of exchanges and talking to the politicians there about our own experience of political transition in the 1970s when we passed from a totalitarian regime to a democratic regime; there was a huge consensus in the country to go ahead and to look for the future, not to look behind at the past.”

When asked about the Euro zone crisis, he explained that the root of the problem can be traced to the establishment of the Euro as a single currency in 2002 where a monetary union was established without any fiscal union, “Now we are paying the price of this because the currency is one but the fiscal policy is different.” The EU comprising of 27 countries makes up the world’s largest trade power and the largest contributor to development in under-developed countries in the world.

With the announcement of 100 billion euros Spanish bailout deal, he stated, “We are convinced that we are not going to use the facility as a whole, probably half of it.” He pointed out that the sum would match only between 8-10% of Spain’s 1.3 trillion euros GDP as opposed to Greece, which had received 80% of its GDP in support and Ireland and Portugal which received 50% and 30%, respectively. But despite this, Spain’s Ibex managed a 0.09% increase and in the bond markets Spanish yields rising above 6.74% on Monday.

Benito remains confident that a solution will be found to the Euro crisis, “The markets are places where investors speculate and consider what can happen next week in Greece with the elections, what can happen with French banks if Greece would collapse, what can happen with Portugal if they cannot solve their problems after the injection of liquidity. This is a very fluid situation. But we are convinced that we will find a solution in the next few weeks. On June 22, we have a meeting of the five largest European economies in Rome to prepare for the European Summit and once the elections in Greece are over, a solution will be found for all this at the summit.”

The Secretary’s visit is purposed to relay the foreign policy priorities of the newly-formed Spanish government, headed by Mariano Rajoy regarding the Gulf states. “I have brought a letter of the President of the Government, Mariano Rajoy for each Prime Minister explaining this priority in our foreign policy and our wish to strengthen political dialogue with each country and economic relations,” he said at a press conference held at the Spanish Ambassador’s residence. The letters of Prime Minster Rajoy also contain an invitation for every Prime Minister to visit Madrid.

“What we want now is to have a policy for the Gulf Region, the basis of a stronger relation will be build on the excellent friendship between His majesty King Juan Carlos I with each Head of State here in the region and the good understanding that we have at the level of the Government,” he added and informed that political consultations would be conducted once a year at ministerial levels for this purpose.
Currently, joint economic committees are being negotiated, “We are negotiating two agreements, one to establish a Joint Economic Committee that we have with other countries and one we want to have with each and every country here in the region and we are negotiating an agreement between the Ministries of Public Work and Transportation.” Benito hopes that agreement to be reached on the matter before the end of the year.

In Kuwait, he has met with the Prime Minister, the Minister of Foreign Affairs as well as the Minister of Public Works and Transportation and the President of Partnership Technical Bureau to discuss the projects taking place here. “We have proposed that Spanish companies which are very well established in Europe, Latin America and in the US come here. We have very good and very competitive companies in the infrastructure sector, in water treatment, in solid waste treatment, in air traffic control, etc. Some infrastructure companies already have projects here in Kuwait and we would like to do more.” He stated that Spain is following with great interest the new projection of Kuwait in Latin America, “We would like to work with Kuwait in Latin America and in the countries in Northern Africa, like Tunisia, Libya and Egypt which are going to need a lot of support and a lot of investment.” He shared that with Kuwait’s financial resources and Spanish companies already present there, the two countries would be able to match their efforts.

The total value of trade between Kuwait and Spain is estimated at $480 million, of which $200 million account for exports from Spain to Kuwait. Benito believes that there is a lot of room for growth and hopes for trade and investment between the countries to double in five years.

He concluded his two day visit to Kuwait on June 12, ending his second tour of the Gulf that included visits to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.


By: Cinatra Fernandes Arab Times Staff

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