Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said here Wednesday that he will convey an offer of dialogue with Britain over the future of Gibraltar when he travels to London next week for talks with British counterpart William Hague.

He addressed the issue during a joint press conference in Madrid with visiting Mexican Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa, taking the opportunity to stress that Spain will defend its fishing rights in the Bay of Gibraltar, known to Spaniards as Bahia de Algeciras.

"The will of Spain is dialogue, negotiation and good understanding, but, from that, also respect for the rights of fishermen in its waters," Garcia-Margallo said.

What would happen, he asked, if "armed Spanish ships tried to stop British ships from fishing in British waters," alluding to instances in which Britain's Royal Navy barred Spain's fishing fleet from waters near Gibraltar.

The 1713 treaty that is the basis for Britain's claim to sovereignty over the Rock limits British maritime control to the port of Gibraltar, Garcia-Margallo said.

He urged a return to the terms of a 1999 accord between Gibraltarian authorities and Spanish fishermen.

Renewed conflict over fishing rights and the forthcoming visit to Gibraltar by Britain's Prince Edward have led to tensions between Madrid and London.

The question of sovereignty over Gibraltar must be resolved "exclusively" by Spain and Britain, "without intervention" by the Rock's elected officials, Garcia-Margallo said, insisting that the Gibraltarians will not have the power to veto a prospective accord.

Gibraltar is a territory of 5.5 square kilometers (2.1 square miles) on the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula at the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea. It has been held by Britain since 1704 and became a British Crown Colony in 1713 in accord with the Treaty of Utrecht.

The Rock currently has some 30,000 residents, who overwhelmingly rejected a 2002 proposal for Britain to share sovereignty over the territory with Spain. EFE