By CIARÁN GILES
MADRID (AP) — Algeria on Friday appeared to have backed down in its dispute with Spain after its mission at the European Union issued a statement saying the northwest African country had never suspended the friendship treaty it holds with Spain.
In an odd development, Algeria said, “As regards the alleged measure by the Government to stop current transactions with a European partner, it exists in fact only in the minds of those who claim it and those who hastened to stigmatize it.”
There was no immediate comment by the Spanish government.
The statement came hours after top European Union officials said the bloc was treating the crisis between Algeria and Spain with the “utmost concern” and warned it was prepared to take action to defend the interests of its members.
The Algerian mission said it “deplores the haste with which the European Commission has reacted without prior consultation or verification with the Algerian government to Algeria’s suspension of a bilateral political treaty with a European partner, in this case Spain.”
The Algerian president’s office announced Wednesday that the North African nation was “immediately” suspending a two-decade-old friendship treaty with Spain, indicating a freeze on trade and cooperation between the two countries.
The suspension was seen as the latest move by Algeria to put pressure on Madrid after it changed its long-standing policy regarding the contested territory of Western Sahara. Algeria recalled its ambassador to Spain in March after Madrid came out in support of Morocco’s attempts to keep Western Sahara under its rule. Algeria supports the territory’s independence movement.
Earlier Friday, European Commission executive vice president Valdis Dombrovskis and EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell issued a statement saying the decision to suspension appeared “to be in violation of the EU-Algeria Association Agreement, in particular in the area of trade and investment.”
“This would lead to a discriminatory treatment of an EU member state and adversely affect the exercise of the Union’s rights under the Agreement,” the EU said.
While urging dialogue to resolve the dispute, the EU officials said “the EU is ready to stand up against any type of coercive measures applied against” an EU nation.
That statement came after Spanish Foreign Minister José Albares traveled to Brussels to discuss the crisis.
Albares said “the unilateral measure” taken by Algeria violated the accord with the EU but insisted that “what we want is dialogue and we’re not going to give any excuse for any escalation.”
The EU on Thursday had urged Algeria to reverse its decision.
Spain’s chief worry had been that the suspension might affect important gas supplies from Algeria, but the government said that so far this has not happened. Algeria supplies 23% of Spain’s gas needs.
Spain and the rest of the 27-nation bloc are hustling now to find alternatives to Russian energy imports to protest Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Spain was the colonial power in Western Sahara until it was annexed by Morocco in 1975. Since then, neighbors Algeria and Morocco have been at odds over the fate of the region.
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