Spain, US bury years of strained ties: analysts

7th April 2009, Comments 0 comments

The meeting between Obama and Zapatero on the sidelines of the US-EU summit ushers a new era in relations, say analysts.

MADRID – The United States and Spain drew a line under five years of thorny relations roiled by Madrid's stance on the Iraq war when their leaders met in Prague over the weekend, analysts said Monday.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said his meeting with US President Barack Obama Sunday on the sidelines of the US-EU summit "opens a new era in relations" between the two countries.

Obama replied that he is "glad to call him (Zapatero) a friend."

The two leaders invited each other to visit their countries, although no dates were set, a Spanish government source said.

"The Obama-Zapatero meetings can and must herald a gradual, essential and full normalisation" of relations, said the centre-left daily El Pais.

At a NATO summit at the weekend, Zapatero also promised to boost Spain's contingent in Afghanistan for the August elections there, as sought by Washington.

The move went some way to easing the spat with the US over Madrid's decision to withdraw its troops from the international force in Kosovo in March.

Zapatero, the head of Spain's Socialist Party, has never hid his delight at the Democrat's election last November, after five years of strained ties with the Republican administration of George W. Bush.

The Spanish prime minister angered the Bush administration by withdrawing Spanish troops from Iraq, sent by his conservative predecessor Jose Maria Aznar, immediately after he was first elected in 2004.

Ties between Madrid and Washington were further strained by Spain's policy of holding political dialogue with Cuba, which conflicted with Washington's strategy at the time of isolating the communist regime.

But Zapatero now appears to have found a soulmate in Obama.

Aside from some personal similarities – both were born of the same date, 4 August, a year apart, love basketball and the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges – they share opinions on a number of major issues.

Julian Santamaria, a professor of political science at Madrid's Complutense University and a former ambassador to Washington, predicted a "clear understanding" between the two, "not just based on personal feelings but because they might share a number of common values and purposes."

Obama has appeared more open to dialogue with Cuba than Bush.

Zapatero also supports Turkey joining the European Union, and Obama said Sunday that Turkish membership "would broaden and strengthen Europe's foundation once more."

The two leaders were both in Turkey on Sunday, where Zapatero was attending a meeting of the Alliance of Civilisations, an UN-backed Spanish initiative aimed at fostering greater cross-cultural understanding between the Islamic and Western worlds.

However, one analyst warned that Zapatero could make the same mistake as his predecessor Aznar, who had a close personal relationship with Bush.

"We don't have to do what our friend Obama says, because that's precisely what Aznar was accused of," said Antonio Alonso, a professor of International Relations at Spain's CEU San Pablo University.

"It's true that the United States is strategic ally... But we are not their servants."

AFP / Expatica

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