Bush call to Zapatero may herald thaw in relations

17th March 2008, Comments 0 comments

Leaders to hold first bilateral meeting in April in Bucharest

17 March 2008

MADRID - US President George W. Bush telephoned Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero Friday to congratulate him personally for his recent re-election, fuelling speculation about a thaw in bilateral relations that have been strained ever since Spain pulled its troops from Iraq in 2004.

The White House had sent a letter of congratulations Thursday, but the telephone call is one level higher up the diplomatic scale of cordiality.

Both leaders, who have not seen each other since a United Nations event in New York last September, will hold their first ever bilateral meeting at a NATO summit in Bucharest between 2 and 4 April.

"We agreed to talk about issues where we have shared interests," Zapatero said.

Speaking in Brussels following a meeting of the European Council, Zapatero announced he will reorganise the structure of his government to make it "as functional as possible." Under the new guidelines, the focus will be on the economy, employment and social issues. "We must move forward with innovation and modernisation, and improve our social policies and integration," he said.

Asked whether antiterrorist policies will again be a priority this term, Zapatero said the fight against terrorism "will always be a priority for any Spanish government; it cannot be any other way." Although he did not divulge the makeup of his new Cabinet, he said former minister José Bono "is the candidate with the best chances" of being speaker of the house.

The final tally of last Sunday's elections was released Friday, with the Socialists chalking up nearly 11.3 million votes, or 43.84 percent of the total, while the Popular Party (PP) got close to 10.3 million votes, or 39.93 percent. Spaniards living abroad heavily favoured the Socialists, who garnered 217,686 votes, almost twice as many as to the PP. "Spaniards have clearly shown which government they want," Zapatero said.

[Copyright El Pais / SUSANA URRA 2008]

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