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Spain's New Foreign Minister to Meet with Senior US Officials Wednesday - 2004-04-21

Spain's new foreign minister meets with senior U.S. officials Wednesday in Washington for talks expected to focus on Madrid's decision to pull its troops out of Iraq in the coming weeks.

Miguel Moratinos will meet with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice before holding a late afternoon news conference at the Spanish embassy.

The Spanish diplomat's visit to Washington comes after a stop in Dublin, Ireland.

After starting his new job early this week, Mr. Moratinos said he believes Spain and the United States will maintain close ties despite the troop withdrawal.

On Sunday - one day after taking office - Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said his country's 1,300 troops would start coming home as soon as possible, even before the planned transfer of power in Iraq on June 30.

Mr. Moratinos said he informed Mr. Powell of the decision hours before the announcement. The Spanish foreign minister said Secretary Powell expressed disappointment, but expressed that Washington wanted to maintain good relations with Madrid.

Honduras and the Dominican Republic have since joined Spain in deciding to withdraw their troops.

Secretary Powell said Tuesday he regrets such decisions, but noted that other coalition members have given him strong commitments to stay.