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Wednesday, 11 December, 2002, 19:31 GMT
No deal in Spain-Morocco talks
Spanish soldiers on Perejil
Even before the Perejil crisis, relations were tense
Spain and Morocco have failed to restore full diplomatic relations despite having held their first talks since tensions over the tiny island of Perejil erupted in July.

Moroccan Foreign Minister Mohamed Benaissa
Mr Benaissa met his Spanish counterpart for the first time in five months
However, after the talks in Madrid, the Moroccan and Spanish foreign ministers announced they were setting up working groups to address the main dividing issues.

The joint statement said the ministers conducted a "critical... inventory" of both countries' bilateral relations, and a new round of talks was planned early next year.

Relations between the two countries worsened when Spanish marines forcibly evicted some Moroccan soldiers from the island, which both countries claim.

As the row escalated, Spain withdrew its ambassador in July, while Morocco recalled its ambassador the previous October without giving a reason.

Step forward

Ahead of the meeting, Moroccan Foreign Minister Mohamed Benaissa had said he wanted to have heart-to-heart talks with his Spanish counterpart, Ana Palacio.

Mr Benaissa said he wanted to try and restore normal diplomatic ties between the two countries.

However, their four-hour talks ended without any agreement to return their respective ambassadors to Rabat and Madrid.

Despite this, Ms Palacio was quoted as saying that she was very satisfied with the meeting and that the important thing for her was that it took place.

The BBC's Claire Marshall says that the only move forward appears to be the idea of setting working groups to debate some of the obstacles to improving ties.

Thorny issues

Morocco's complaints with Spain are not limited to Perejil.

The most important is over the former Spanish colony in Western Sahara which Morocco controls.

Rabat believes that Madrid favours the territory's independence movement - the Polisario Front - and is blocking the UN from approving Morocco's claim to sovereignty.

Then there are the Spanish north African enclaves - Ceuta and Melilla and various islands including Perejil which Morocco regards as occupied territory.

In addition, Spain also wants to prospect for oil in the waters between Morocco's Atlantic coast and the Spanish Canary Islands.

For its part, Madrid complains that Morocco does not do enough to stem illegal immigration and drug trafficking into Spain.

It also blames Rabat for the collapse of the European Union agreement that allowed Spain to fish in Morocco's rich waters.

But experts say it is in both countries interest to improve relations.

Spain is the second biggest market for Morocco's exports after France and its second biggest investor.



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23 Sep 02 | Africa
22 Jul 02 | Media reports
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