Expatica news

Rice jets in for stormy meeting with Zapatero

1 June 2007

MADRID-  U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s one-day jaunt to Spain on Friday is meant to smooth over a three-year downturn in relations between Washington and Madrid, but both sides say they won’t shy away from sensitive issues, foremost among them Cuba.

Even before she landed, Rice blasted a decision by her Spanish counterpart, Miguel Angel Moratinos, to snub Cuban dissidents on a recent visit to Havana, saying it was clear the United States and Spain do not “see eye-to-eye” on what to do about Fidel Castro’s regime.

“The Cubans deserve better and I think we will talk about that,” she said Tuesday.

For its part, Spain has been downplaying Rice’s visit, indicating Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero was more focused on meetings this week and next with new French President Nicolas Sarkozy, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Japanese foreign minister. His office said his face-to-face talks with Rice would be brief, and characterized the visit as a “courtesy call.”

But the Spanish leader has also said he would be glad to discuss Cuba, and hoped his explanation could assuage U.S. concerns.

“Countries and governments don’t have to have equal visions on every aspect of international policy,” Zapatero said earlier this week. “But it is positive that we are talking about it. Surely, when we talk our positions will become more understandable.”

Rice was scheduled to arrive just after midday, meeting with Spanish King Juan Carlos before talks and a working lunch with Moratinos, the foreign minister. She planned to meet with Zapatero in the afternoon, followed by the head of Spain’s conservative opposition, before departing.

Zapatero is one of the few European leaders not to have been invited to the White House since taking office.

In fact, relations between Washington and Zapatero, who openly supported Democratic challenger John Kerry on the eve of the U.S. elections in 2004, have been frosty since even before the Spanish leader took power.

In 2003, as head of the Socialist party then in opposition, Zapatero did not join other Spanish officials in standing up when U.S. troops marched past a VIP stand during a parade to mark National Day. The next year, as prime minister, he didn’t even invite the Americans.

That followed Zapatero’s decision to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq, which he did a month after taking office in 2004. The war has been deeply unpopular here, particularly after a terror attack by Islamic militants that year that killed 191 people on Madrid commuter trains. The militants said they targeted Spain because of its participation in the peacekeeping force in Iraq.

Despite these fissures, Spanish and U.S. officials say relations have never been as bad as the media has made them out, and point to frequent ministerial level contacts between the two countries. Trade figures show the political chill has not extended to business.

A spokeswoman for Zapatero told The Associated Press that Spain and the United States share the same goal for Cuba, and only disagree on how to get there.

“On what is essential for Cuba we agree _ to achieve democracy _ but we differ on strategies,” she said on customary condition of anonymity.

[Copright AP with Expatica]

Subject: Spanish news