(NSI News Source Info) MADRID - March 23, 2009: The withdrawal of Spanish troops from Kosovo, which has drawn U.S. criticism, will be done in a "staged" and "flexible" manner, the Spanish Defense Ministry said Sunday. Defense Minister Carme Chacon will meet North Atlantic Treaty Organization chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer in Brussels this week, the ministry said, to discuss Spain's pullout from the NATO-led force in Kosovo, a decision Chacon announced Thursday. Spanish Defence Minister Carme Chacon (C) reviews Spanish troops at "Base Espana" in Istok The U.S. said Friday it was "deeply disappointed and surprised" by the planned withdrawal. Spanish newspapers El Pais and El Mundo said Sunday that Spain has made concessions to the U.S. on the timing of the pullout, as well as on its involvement in Afghanistan. Bernardino Leon, the top aide to Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, promised U.S. National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones that the Kosovo pullout would be done gradually and that Spain would boost its contingent in Afghanistan, the papers reported. Spain has thus far appeared reluctant to increase its military presence in Afghanistan, saying that sending more troops, as sought by Washington, "is not a solution" to resolving the country's problems. "The decision to withdraw Spanish troops from Kosovo, a territory whose independence Spain does not recognize, is firm and has been adopted by the government taking into account the operational necessities and the planning of our armed forces," the Defense Ministry statement said. "This process will take place in a staged and co-ordinated manner with our allies" and in a "flexible" way so that "the bulk of our troops are back within the time limit indicated by the ministry," it said. Unlike a number of European Union counterparts, Spain has declined to recognize Kosovo out of concern that it might set a precedent for separatists at home.
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