Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Britain stands ground on Sub repairs

Britain will not provide Spain with an assurance that there will be no more repairs of nuclear submarines in Gibraltar.

That was the unequivocal message from Dominick Chilcott, director for Mediterranean Europe at the British Government’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office in response to questions from reporters following the latest round of tripartite talks.

The controversial issue of nuclear submarines is in essence a bilateral issue between the UK and Spain but was nonetheless raised at the meeting in Palma de Mallorca this week.

In a statement issued at the end of the talks, Spain reiterated its wish that there be no more repairs on “the nuclear systems of submarines” in Gibraltar and asked for a written declaration to that effect from Britain.

Mr Chilcott said the UK was willing to explore how it could provide reassurances about routine submarine calls at the Rock, as well as ease lingering concerns stemming from the Tireless incident. But he added:

“On the specific question of whether we are negotiating an understanding that there will be no further repairs of submarines in Gibraltar, that is not what we’re doing.

Let’s be quite clear about that.

We would like to capture how we can provide reassurances about our normal operations of our submarines and deal with the issue of Tireless. But there’s no question, as has been said before wrongly, that we’re in the process of negotiating no repairs or anything like that.”

He would not go into any detail as to the nature of the contacts with Spain “because I don’t want to make our discussions on this very sensitive issue more complicated than they are.”

“The details of our discussions are like submarines themselves, in that until they surface and they are ready to surface, I think we just keep them under water and out of reach of the sonar of journalists,” he said.

Jose Pons, director general for Europe and North America at the Spanish Government’s Foreign Affairs Ministry (Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores MAE), highlighted the unease that the Tireless repairs had caused in Spain.

“Our interest is in having the assurance and the peace of mind that all submarine visits are taking place with complete normality,” he said.

“What we are asking from the British government is a recognition that what happened back then [with Tireless] should not happen again.”

He said Spain’s approach to issues such as nuclear weapons and nuclear energy differed from the UK’s, as did the public’s perceptions toward the issue of submarine visits.

“Having said that, what the Spanish Government wants is for any necessary operational calls by British submarines in Gibraltar to take place in a safe manner and with guarantees that the rules are being followed,” he added.

In that sense, the position of the central government in Madrid appears vastly at odds with that of regional politicians who have in recent weeks called for an end to all submarine visits to the Rock, routine or otherwise.

“The government cannot be responsible for statements or posturing by other people or politicians who do not form part of the government,” Mr Pons said.

Related Article:

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05 October 2005 - Junta to raise submarine issue in Parliament

04 October 2005 - Sub stirs turbulent reaction in Campo

04 October 2005 - Gibraltar can handle nuclear submarine repairs

28 September 2005 - Spain declares war on nuclear vessels in Gibraltar - but not in Spain!

27 September 2005 - Nuclear powered submarine HMS Trenchant visits Gibraltar

27 September 2005 - Spanish ecologists protest against docking of British nuclear submarine

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