The government Friday cleared the way for the signing of a U.S.-Spain defense accord by approving the agreement that reduces U.S. military forces by more than a third and eliminates 72 jet fighters from Spanish soil.

The approval of the eight-year accord at a weekly Cabinet meeting came after three years of difficult negotiations centered largely on Spain's demand for a substantial trimming of the U.S. military presence.Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez had pledged to reduce the U.S. military presence and keep the country nuclear-free in return for Spain's continued membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Spanish and U.S. Embassy officials said the agreement, which replaces a defense treaty that had been renewed every five years since its signing in 1953 under Gen. Francisco Franco's rule, will be signed in Madrid within the next 10 days.