Carter visits Madrid to touch bases with Spanish government

President Carter and Spanish leaders meet June 25 for the first time since Spain's decision to join NATO and the Soviet Union's announcement of limited troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Defense policies and the state of Spain's young democracy are expected to be the focus of Mr. Carter's discussions with King Juan Carlos, Prime Minister Adolfo Suarez, and Felipe Gonzales, the Socialist Party leader.

President Carter's visit to Spain -- which represents the third stage of his European trip following visits to Italy and Yugoslavia -- has both a symbolic and a political interest.

The symbolic aspect lies in the US President's continued determination to express support for Spain's transition to a democracy. However, the main political significance of the visit concerns the position of the Spanish government on two sensitive issues -- Iran and Afghanistan. On both these issues Spain has probably gone further than any other European government in demonstrating solidarity with the United States.

At the end of a visit to Washington by Prime Minister Suarez in January, the White House issued a communique that stated: "In condemning Soviet agression [in Afghanistan] the [US] president and the [Spanish] prime minister were in agreement on the need to reinforce Western security and to express this in concrete measures that would let the Soviet Union see the consequences of its conduct."

In accordance with the spirit of this communique, Spain expelled two Russian citizens in February (including the first secretary of the Russian Embassy in Madrid), on charges of spying.

In April, Spain joined a European Community initiative aimed at securing the release of US hostages in Iran; in May the Spanish government went along with the boycott of the Moscow Olympic Games; and in early June, as a culminating step in this trend, the government announced its decision to join NATO -- a decision that is strongly backed by the US.

But there are still several outstanding issues that must be resolved in connection with Spain's NATO membership application. In particular, there is the difficult question of whether restrictions on the use of American air bases in the defense agreements will continue to exclude an action in the Middle East and the Gulf.

Mr. Carter's visit coincides with a new wave of Basque terrorist violence following an announcement over the weekend by a branch of the Euzkadi to Azkatasuna (ETA) separatist group that they are going to renew their holiday bombing campaign in Spain's principal resorts. Extremely tight security arrangements have been arranged for the visit and all demonstrations have been banned.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.