The Madrid Summit, next week, will be the first to be held by NATO in its 73-year history with an invasion on European soil. The Severodonetsk or Lisichans bombs will resound in the pavilion of the Madrid Fair (Ifema) where more than 40 heads of state and government will debate how to deal with a scenario where war has replaced diplomacy. Behind the scenes, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, José Manuel Albares (Madrid, 50 years old), negotiates until the last minute every comma of the documents that the leaders will sign, convinced that words are still important.
Ask. Do you expect Sweden and Finland to be invited to join NATO in Madrid?
Response. Few days left. There is an open dialogue between Sweden, Finland and Turkey. That dialogue, from the information I have, is going well; and what Spain wants is for them to be able to join NATO as they have expressed their wish. At the same time, all doubts or concerns about the security of the member states must be sufficiently answered. What we want is for two close partners of the EU, such as Finland and Sweden, and a Mediterranean ally and friend, such as Turkey, to come together. If Spain can help, of course we will.
P. Can a country take NATO hostage for reasons other than the entry of Sweden and Finland?
R. The rules are clear. The decision has to be taken unanimously. Finland and Sweden are two established democracies and have their place in the Atlantic family. At the same time, those concerns that Turkey may have need to be addressed. I hope that very soon we can bring positions closer together and unanimously enter NATO.
P. Do you rule out Zelensky appearing in Madrid?
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R. President Zelensky is invited. If he made the decision to come, of course, we would welcome him with open arms. But he has already said that he will participate by videoconference. We have to understand the complexity of leaving and entering Ukraine, where there is an open war, and the fact that he has to be at the head of his government in these difficult times.
P. After the entry of Sweden and Finland, should NATO keep its door open for Ukraine to enter in the medium term?
R. That is not raised. And I want to clarify that whoever might think that one of the reasons for Russia’s illegal aggression against Ukraine was that entry, it is not true. It’s part of a disinformation campaign. It was never on the table, nor is it now.
P. Some allied governments believe that prolonging this war wears down Putin and others warn that keeping an open conflict in Europe risks escalation.
R. There is only one strategy and that is for peace to return to Ukraine and Europe as soon as possible. All the measures that the EU countries and our transatlantic allies are taking seek to bring Russian troops back inside the borders of their country, from where they should never have left.
P. Should we ask Zelensky to seek a ceasefire with Putin, even at the cost of making sacrifices?
R. Zelensky is a democratically elected president. And Ukraine a sovereign, free and independent country. It is the Government of Ukraine that must make the decisions it deems appropriate about its future.
P. The war in Ukraine is going to mark the Madrid summit. Hasn’t Spain’s interest in not neglecting threats from the south been blurred?
R. The summit will be marked by Russia’s illegal aggression against Ukraine. It could not be otherwise. And Spain recognizes that at this time the greatest threats to the security of NATO, therefore to the security of Spain and the Spanish, come from the eastern flank. Nothing more normal than, if there is a conflict like the one in Ukraine, we reinforce that flank. Spain participates in solidarity in its reinforcement. But there are also threats from the southern flank that the rest of the allies recognize. The foreign ministers’ dinner on the 29th will be centered on the southern flank, one of the sessions of the heads of state and government will deal with the situation in the southern neighbourhood… therefore, the very structure of the summit demonstrates this. And I am sure that the Strategic Concept will take these threats into account.
P. The two guests from the south to the summit (Mauritania and Jordan) are eccentric countries with respect to the powers of the region, which demonstrates the poverty of NATO’s relationship with the other shore of the Mediterranean.
R. What that shows is that until now there were no threats from the southern flank like today. Indeed, it is recent that NATO looks to the south, although it has been a few years. The Sahel did not represent the challenge that it represents today, once Daesh has descended in Iraq and Syria, it has become the epicenter of world terrorism. NATO has already recognized that the view has to be 360 degrees and I am sure that the Strategic Concept will go one step further.
P. Russia is in the south too.
R. Increasingly the threats from the south are Russian threats from the south.
P. Illegal immigration and gas supply, are they weapons?
R. If they want to become a political weapon, which is unacceptable, they can. We have seen it on the border between Belarus and Poland, with emigrants who came from the Middle East. We are seeing it with Russian gas to put pressure on countries dependent on it. Today it is obvious. But there are others, cyber attacks, terrorism, disinformation, climate change. They are hybrid threats.
P. Algeria assures that it has not frozen the direct debits that allow commercial exchange with Spain.
R. Trade policy is fully communitized, it belongs to the European Commission, and it is the executive vice president and trade policy commissioner Dombrovskis who is currently analyzing this situation. What we want is to have the best relations with Algeria based on mutual respect, sovereignty and non-interference in internal affairs.
P. Spanish businessmen complain that they cannot import products. How long can this situation be maintained?
R. Every time we detect the blockage of an operation, we are transferring it to the Commission, which is the one that verifies the situation and has the instruments to respond to it. I insist: what we want is for diplomacy, dialogue, friendship between the two peoples to resume.
P. Is Spain going to ask the Commission to denounce the breach of the association agreement between Algeria and the EU? Because there seems to be a fairly clear violation.
R. This was stated by the vice president and the high representative in their statement. Spain does not have to ask for anything. Commercial policy is common, it is the Commission that acts.
P. But the businessmen demand accounts from the Spanish Government. What does it tell them?
R. I was in a meeting with the commissioner, we provided the certification of the banking association and we sent all those operations that were blocked at that time. What I hope is that this situation returns to the channels of friendship between the two peoples, but I also want to say to Spanish businessmen: we will be firm in your defense.
P. What will they do?
R. We do not anticipate events. We hope that the course of diplomacy and dialogue will be resumed. It’s what we want.
P. Spanish businessmen have the right to know what their government is going to do
R. We are in contact with Spanish businessmen and we are collecting information to verify this situation. Understand that diplomacy needs discretion.
P. If you feel that it is an obstacle to the normalization of relations. Would it go away?
R. Spain has done absolutely nothing to find itself in this situation. What we want is to have the best relations with the people of Algeria and its Government, exactly the same as with the rest of our neighbors.
P. I ask because there has been an editorial from the official Algerian agency full of personal insults against you.
R. I matter little, this is not a matter of this or that person. I represent the foreign policy of Spain and I will always work for friendship with the Algerian people, the hand is outstretched and we want diplomacy to be recovered. But from the firmness of the defense of our companies.
P. Was a reaction from Algeria like the one it has had foreseeable?
R. I insist, Spain has done nothing to find itself in this situation. Every country has the right to make sovereign decisions.
P. Some believe that Spain has given an image of weakness and has yielded to pressure from Morocco.
R. Spain does not accept pressure from anyone, for any decision [en política exterior]. Spain makes its decisions in a sovereign way and that is something that all the countries of the world must understand.
P. Why hasn’t Algeria understood that it is an internal matter for Spain to decide its position on the Sahara?
R. It is not for me to answer that question.
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