Spain's defence minister shot down over Nato gaffe

Controversial politician in trouble over announcement to pull troops out of Kosovo

The Spanish Defence minister, Carme Chacón, suffered a dramatic fall from grace after announcing that Spain would shortly withdraw from Nato operations in Kosovo, only to have the decision reversed yesterday following a diplomatic row.

On a morale-boosting trip to troops in Kosovo last week, Ms Chacón, Spain's first female defence chief and a star of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's majority female cabinet, declared: "The mission has been completed and it's time to return home."

But her announcement burst like a bombshell among Nato officials, the US administration and senior diplomats who complained she had acted unilaterally and failed to inform them through the proper channels.

Madrid swiftly back-pedalled yesterday, saying the timetable for withdrawal was flexible. "Carme Chacón will meet Nato's secretary-general next week to explain the reasons for the withdrawal and to reach a joint decision on a timetable," Mr Zapatero's spokesman said. "The decision to leave has been made but we can be flexible over the timetable, be it one year, 18 months or eight months."

The diplomatic gaffe is a reverse of fortune for Ms Chacón, 38, who made headlines when she took office last April and reviewed her troops while heavily pregnant. During a visit to Spanish soldiers in Afghanistan, images of this slight figure with her bump, her smock fluttering in the desert breeze, signalled a new mood of equality in Spain. She promptly purged the top brass, reformed and humanised Spain's discredited armed forces which became, within months, one of the country's most valued institutions.

But her brusque inexperience ruffled feathers, and her latest faux pas has revived criticisms from those who questioned whether a woman could run defence matters. The anti-government El Mundo newspaper condemned Ms Chacó*yesterday for "incompetence" and Mr Zapatero for "frivolity" in appointing her. The paper accused her of putting image before substance, calling photo opportunities without allowing questions, and of wearing a trouser suit to a military gala.

Even the usually sympathetic El Pais found her action "incomprehensible ... deepening the vision of Spain as an unpredictable international ally who responds only to the stimuli of domestic policy".

The timing could not have been worse. Spain has been carefully preparing for next month's G20 summit in London and Nato summit in Strasbourg as occasions for Mr Zapatero to establish friendly ties with President Barack Obama, after the froideur of the Bush years, and to boost flagging popularity at home.

Spain has about 600 troops in Kosovo as part of a UN mission that includes some 15,500 soldiers from Nato members and allies. Ms Chacó*telephoned Nato's secretary-general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, to alert him that she would announce the troop withdrawal, but she was unable to contact her US opposite number, Robert Gates, and told a senior defence official to pass on the message.

When the US learned of her decision, it sought clarification from Spain's ambassador in Washington, Jorge Dezcallar, who reportedly admitted he had not been told either. Ms Chacón's action prompted a dressing down from a US state department spokesman who said he was "deeply disappointed in Spain" – an expression he repeated a blistering four times in a single press conference.

Mr Zapatero dispatched his senior foreign policy advisor, Bernadino Leon, to Washington to extinguish the diplomatic flames.

On her return, Ms Chacó*called Mr Scheffer again, apparently bewildered by the avalanche of criticism engulfing her. Caught on the hop and isolated in the cabinet, she has stayed silent since.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
News
Jihadi John
newsMonikers like 'Jihadi John' make the grim sound glamorous
News
newsAnother week, another dress controversy on the internet
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executive - Call Centre Jobs

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003