Washington and Madrid are putting the finishing touches on a deal to make the Morón de la Frontera air base in Seville province the main springboard for US military operations in Africa.
Authorities hope that the amendment to the 1988 bilateral defense agreement will be signed during US State Secretary John Kerry’s planned visit to Spain on Sunday and Monday.
Uncertainty over the makeup of the parliament that will emerge after this fall’s general elections has sped up negotiations
The agreement will increase Spain’s role as a privileged partner of the United States on security issues.
Under the new deal, Morón will became the main base for USAFRICOM, the United States Africa Command, which handles military operations and relations with African countries.
In crisis situations, the airbase could hold up to 3,500 marines, up from the 850 who are currently stationed there.
Diplomatic sources said the US has pledged to invest $24 million (around €22 million) on the Morón base. The same sources added that Washington has also agreed to resolve the conflict with Madrid over the Palomares case, which dates back to 1966 when two American B-52 bombers crashed in midair leaving four atomic bombs on this spot in Almería province. The US has so far refused to help pay for the cleanup so as not to set a precedent for claims from other countries.
On April 17, the Spanish government approved a one-year extension to the presence of 850 marines in Morón, but wants the new reform, which involves an indefinite US military presence, to be approved by parliament before it is dissolved.
Uncertainty over the makeup of the parliament that will emerge from this fall’s general elections – in which the ruling Popular Party is expected to lose its absolute majority – has sped up talks between Madrid and Washington.
While no official announcement has yet been made, Kerry is expected to land in Madrid on Sunday and meet with King Felipe VI, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo.
This will be Kerry’s first visit to Spain as US secretary of state after a planned trip to attend an international peace conference last November was canceled.
During his visit, the state secretary is expected to discuss the civil war in Libya and the tens of thousands of refugees trying to cross into Europe, the stalled peace process in the Middle East, the advance of Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, and instability in the Sahel region.
Meanwhile, on April 30 a third Arleigh Burke-class destroyer arrived at the Rota naval base in Cádiz province. When a fourth military ship is sent over, Rota will become the US’s biggest naval station in the Mediterranean.