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NAVAL STATION ROTA, Spain — The U.S. Navy pulled one of its ships from Gibraltar’s 300th birthday celebrations as tensions heat up between Spain and Britain over the colony’s control.

The USS McFaul was the only U.S. ship scheduled to join the British frigate Grafton on Wednesday at a ceremony, but the guided-missile destroyer bypassed the British-ruled territory at the last minute, Gibraltar government officials said. The McFaul and its roughly 330 sailors and officers visited Rota briefly before heading back to the States.

Peter Caruana, Gibraltar’s chief minister, accused the U.S. government of caving into pressure from Spain. He called McFaul’s cancellation an “inexplicable snub” which “I do not think will be forgotten in a hurry.”

“First of all, we had not thought that the United States Navy sought permission from third countries before they decided what ports they visit,” he told the Gibraltar Chronicle. “Secondly, it represents a huge snub to a population which has always been supportive of the American use of Gibraltar when others have been much less supportive of the U.S. Navy’s use of the facilities at Gibraltar.”

The U.S. Embassy in Madrid released a statement on Monday that said no U.S. ship is scheduled to visit the colony during the commemoration.

“We would not want a U.S. ship visit to be perceived as disturbing sensitivities,” the statement said.

“U.S. policy toward Gibraltar is unchanged, and we have full confidence that our two good friends and allies, Spain and the U.K., can work out any policy differences between them.”

Navy Cmdr. Cate Mueller, a spokeswoman for the Sixth Fleet, would not confirm whether the McFaul had planned to be part of the commemoration because “we do not discuss our ship schedules in advance.”

Spain’s desire to take back “The Rock” has caused considerable friction between the two nations. An Anglo-Dutch force seized the tiny colony at the tip of southern Spain 300 years ago. Spain officially turned over Gibraltar to the British in the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713.

Celebrations marking British rule have infuriated Spain, and Spanish diplomatic officials have publicly expressed disappointment in the party.

The Pentagon shares two military bases in southern Spain — Naval Station Rota north of Cadiz and Morón Air Base near Seville. However, U.S. ships have visited Gibraltar since the early 19th century.

The colony remains a popular port visit for many American warships deployed to the Mediterranean Sea.


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