US critical of Spanish withdrawal from Kosovo

US critical of Spanish withdrawal from Kosovo Washington  - The United States criticized Spain for its decision Friday to end its role in the NATO peacekeeping force in Kosovo, calling it a disappointment that breaks with an alliance agreement.

The Spanish government announced that it would pull out its 620 soldiers who are part of NATO's 15,500-strong contingency in Kosovo, which declared independence last year but was not recognized by Madrid.

"We are deeply disappointed by this decision taken by Spain," State Department spokesman Robert Wood said. "If you recall, in 1999, NATO allies agreed on the principle of in together, out together. And so we were surprised by this decision."

NATO forces intervened to stop an a Serbian military campaign in its former province against breakaway ethnic Albanians. The United States and most EU countries quickly recognized Kosovo's independence.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero defended the decision, saying Spain could not logically keep soldiers there if it did not recognize Kosovo's independence. Spain for decades has had to cope with a separatist movement in the Basque region.

US relations with Spain were strained when Zapatero pulled Spanish troops out of Iraq after winning the 2004 election. (dpa)

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