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Immigration Dominates Talks Between Spanish, Italian Leaders

Talks between the prime ministers of Italy and Spain in Rome Thursday focused on immigration issues and on the European Union budget for 2007-2013.

Italy and Spain share common concerns on illegal immigration. Every year thousands of illegal immigrants reach the shores of both countries. It was no surprise that the issue dominated the Rome talks between the two prime ministers.

Their countries have been calling on the other EU nations to reach a common position on immigration. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero insist the immigration problem does not only affect Mediterranean countries.

Mr. Zapatero said immigration policy is the biggest problem facing the European Union over the next few years. Mr Berlusconi agreed.

"We must consider this problem a priority," he said. "For the immediate future, we agreed that border controls must be a European responsibility."

Italy and Spain are often used only as transit countries because many illegal immigrants make their way to northern Europe.

The two leaders also discussed an agreement to patrol the Mediterranean that they hope will be signed with France in January. The agreement, among other things, would strengthen the fight against human trafficking, criminal activity and terrorism.

At a news conference following the talks, the two prime ministers were asked to give their position on Iraq. Though the two have strongly differing views on Iraq, they managed to find common ground, agreeing on the need for a "free, democratic and united" Iraq.

Mr. Zapatero's government pulled Spanish troops out of the country immediately after he came to power, while the Italian government still has a 3,000 strong force there. And Mr. Berlusconi said an immediate withdrawal of Italian troops now would meet condemning Iraq to chaos and civil war.

The two leaders were also asked to comment on news reports of illegal CIA detention facilities and overflights in Europe carried out as part of the United States' war on terror.

The Spanish judiciary is probing allegations that CIA planes used a Spanish airport as a base to transport terror suspects. Mr. Zapatero said up until now there is no evidence of illegal CIA actions. He added that his government would be very vigilant, watching out against terrorism, but always with respect for fundamental rights.

In Italy, prosecutors in Milan last month requested the extradition from the United States of 22 CIA agents accused of abducting an Egyptian cleric in the city in 2003. But Mr. Berlusconi said denied there was any information of illegal CIA activities on Italian territory.