(Changes dateline, re-ledes with remarks Saturday by Clinton and Felipe)


U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Saturday stressed the strength of relations between Spain and the United States, which she described as "vital" for both economies and for bringing prosperity to the people of both countries.

U.S.-Spanish ties are vital for our economies, for the soundness and prosperity of both, Clinton said at the closing ceremony of the 17th United States-Spain Council Forum, where Spanish Crown Prince Felipe also spoke.

She also said that this cooperation can spur business activity and lead the way to overcoming the current economic crisis.

Clinton, who arrived at the forum in Jersey City after taking part in this week's United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, spoke of Spaniards as "allies and partners," and said she wished them prosperity.

With regard to Spain's economic woes, Clinton said she hoped the euro zone loan to recapitalize Spanish banks will restore investor confidence, and also expressed her support for labor-market and other structural reforms being carried out by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's administration.

Spain's crown prince, for his part, spoke of the "solid" cooperation between Spain and the United States and the benefits it can bring to both countries to generate trade and overcome the current global economic crisis.

Felipe expressed Saturday his certainty that in today's complex and increasingly globalized world, especially in the context of the grave economic crisis that is squeezing many economies like Spain's, a solid cooperation of Spain and the United States will be to the benefit of all.

The prince said in his speech Friday inaugurating this year's forum that the Iberian nation is committed to achieving greater budget stability while simultaneously spurring growth.

"As difficult as the current economic moment may be, for Spain and the whole of the euro zone, we should not forget that it is precisely in these times when it is even more necessary for us to address, without delay, new and more ambitious goals in our quest and determination to achieve greater budgetary stability, together with economic growth," Felipe said.

The crown prince, who attended the forum with his wife, Princess Letizia, said the gathering "represents an excellent opportunity to convey a message of confidence to both business communities."

In that regard, he pointed to a recently published report by the Business Competitiveness Council - a think tank whose member companies account for a quarter of Spain's gross domestic product - that "examined the solvency levels of the Spanish economy and has predicted a very promising future."

Spain, in recession for the second time in three years, has been battered by the collapse of the country's 1995-2007 real estate boom, which has left banks saddled with toxic property assets.

A sharp drop in tax revenues stemming from numerous businesses failures and a jobless rate above 24 percent also have caused the country to miss its EU-mandated budget-deficit targets despite stringent austerity measures.

Earlier this month, euro zone finance ministers approved a loan of up to 100 billion euros ($126 billion) to recapitalize Spain's ailing lenders, and Rajoy's administration will formally request the aid on Monday.

Because that assistance is to be channeled through the government, the loan has heightened concerns about Spain's public debt burden.

Also in attendance at the forum's inaugural dinner at the Liberty Science Center in Hoboken, New Jersey, were U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Spanish Development Minister Ana Pastor, New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez and other dignitaries.

The forum is part of the activities of the United States-Spain Council, a non-profit organization founded in 1997 with the backing of both governments to promote economic, financial, cultural, educational and political cooperation.

Felipe, who participated in last year's forum in 2011 in the northern Spanish city of Oviedo, hailed the close ties between the United States and Spain, pointed to "freedom, democracy and the rule of law" as the "essence of the United States" and said Spain also shares those same principles.

The crown prince also mentioned U.S.-Spanish cooperation with Latin America and noted that in some countries of that region the United States and Spain occupy the top two positions in terms of foreign direct investment.

"A space as vast in area as it is generous in opportunities is being opened in that region for our companies to share their knowledge, capital and technology with local firms," Felipe said.

That investment will help ensure "Latin America's abundant natural resources" will translate "into growth and development opportunities for their populations and profits for our respective business communities."

The crown prince also underlined the growing presence of the Hispanic world in American life.

"This is a growing reality that ... cannot be ignored in a country where the first Europeans, the Spanish, arrived on the coasts of Florida 500 years ago, an anniversary we'll celebrate together in 2013," he said.

The United States' increasingly "vigorous" Hispanic component "strengthens our bond and offers a unique, historic opportunity" for promoting cultural and economic ties and tackling shared challenges, the crown prince said.

Felipe and Letizia attended Saturday's working sessions, which centered on the economic and fiscal situation in the euro zone, infrastructure and transport opportunities and the growth of the biotechnology industry. EFE