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No Breakthrough in Gibraltar Sovereignty Talks

The British and Spanish prime ministers met Monday to discuss the contentious issue of British sovereignty over Gibraltar. But the two leaders reported no breakthrough in their talks.

Speaking at a news conference, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the negotiations over Gibraltar will continue, and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar said the talks are not in crisis.

Still, their foreign ministers say the negotiations are hung up on "real difficulties."

Gibraltar occupies 6.5 square kilometers at the southern tip of the Iberian peninsula. Its 30,000 residents are citizens of Britain, which has occupied "the Rock" for nearly 300 years.

There are two main obstacles to an Anglo-Spanish deal on Gibraltar. Britain says it will not give up control of Gibraltar's military bases. And Spain refuses to renounce its goal of exclusive sovereignty over the territory.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw says no deal will be forced on Gibraltar. He discussed the negotiations Monday on British radio. "The people who would finally decide would not be the British government, nor the Spanish government, but the people of Gibraltar in a referendum," he said.

The chief minister of Gibraltar, Peter Carauna, says a referendum would be pointless. "There is absolutely no prospect of the people of Gibraltar accepting any form of dilution of their current British sovereignty," he said. "The Foreign Office knows this; Downing Street knows this. And the reason why they then nevertheless go ahead with this agreement is the very reason why the people of Gibraltar are feeling so angry."

Another critic of the talks is Michael Ancram, foreign affairs spokesman of the opposition Tory party. He says the dispute can only lead to trouble. "What is going to happen now is either confrontation with Spain, or confrontation with the people of Gibraltar, or possibly confrontation with both," said Mr. Ancram. "It has been a misbegotten process right from the start. They should suspend these talks now and go back to talking about those things that they can agree on."

The British and Spanish foreign ministers plan to discuss Gibraltar again next month in an effort to break through the current impasse.