Spain says U.S. tipoff led it to query Bolivian flight
MADRID (Reuters) - Spain acknowledged on Tuesday that a U.S. request had led it to delay approving an overflight by Bolivia's president, but said it had given the go-ahead after receiving an assurance from Bolivia that U.S. fugitive Edward Snowden was not on the plane.
Bolivia has accused Spain, France, Portugal and Italy of closing their skies to President Evo Morales' plane last week after being told it was carrying the former U.S. spy agency contractor from Moscow to Bolivia, and demanded to know who gave them that information.
Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo was asked by reporters whether the alert had come from the United States. He replied: "Inter alia (among other things)."
He also confirmed the account of Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca, who said on Sunday that Garcia-Margallo had asked Bolivia for a written assurance that Snowden was not on the plane before opening its airspace.
"Spain ... granted airspace permission on the basis of the word of the Bolivian foreign minister," Garcia-Margallo said. "We believe the word of our allies and friends ...
"If any misunderstanding has taken place, I don't have any objection to saying sorry to President Morales."
The Bolivian government says the United States knew that Snowden was not on the plane and simply wanted to intimidate Morales because of his outspoken criticism of U.S. policies. Morales has since said, along with Venezuela and Nicaragua, that he would offer Snowden asylum.
Snowden is believed to be holed up at Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport, where he landed on June 23 from Hong Kong. U.S. President Barack Obama has said any country that gives him shelter will pay a serious price.
Keen to maintain historical ties to Latin America, a growing export market, Madrid has renewed efforts in recent months to nurture relationships after expropriations by Bolivia and Argentina hit Spanish companies last year.
Portugal, for its part, said it had not enquired about Snowden's possible presence on the plane before letting it cross Portuguese airspace.
"Our choice, and ours alone, was to not request information from Bolivia about who was or wasn't in the plane," Foreign Minister Paulo Portas told a parliamentary commission.
(Reporting By Raquel Castillo; Writing by Sarah Morris; Editing by Kevin Liffey)
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