Corridors of Power: Bush vs.Zapatero

La populariadad y presencia de José María Aznar es tanta en Estados Unidos, que muchos siguen creyendo que todavía se encuentra al frente del Gobierno español, un cargo que dejó en marzo pasado. Desde entonces, las relaciones entre Washington y Madrid son tensas.

En este artículo de Roland Flamini, corresponsal jefe de United Press International, publicado en The Washington Times, se realiza un análisis sobre la tensa relación diplomática entre Estados Unidos y España.

Jose Maria Aznar has such a high profile in the United States that anyone would be forgiven for thinking he was still Spain's prime minister or -- as the Spaniards say -- president of the government. He isn't, of course. Socialist Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero defeated Aznar's conservative People Party last March.

Still, Aznar is all over the place. He lectures on international affairs at Georgetown University in Washington, has visited President Bush in the White House since the election and met with senior Bush administration officials. He is now also a fixture on the fund-raising dinner circuit talking about U.S.-Spanish relations.

At one such event in New York two weeks ago, he was introduced by no less a personage than former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Last Wednesday, he was the main speaker at another dinner, this time in Miami, to promote a new Hispanic association.

As a strong Bush supporter in the Iraq conflict, he continues to champion a close alliance with the United States, which he believes is in Spain's best interest, as well as America's. The trouble is, there's no alliance -- not any more. Aznar's successor infuriated the Bush administration by withdrawing Spanish forces from Iraq. Bush took the pullout personally and Zapatero still awaits a reply to his call congratulating the president on his re-election.

Relations between Washington and Madrid remain businesslike, but the Bush administration makes it clear that no love is lost. U.S. sources who briefed journalists on Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's European itinerary this week noted that she will not be visiting Spain because of the strained relations -- the same reason why Zapatero is not likely to visit Washington any time soon.

Zapatero didn't help matters after the Spanish pullout by denouncing the Iraq war as illegal. Yet the two governments cannot remain estranged forever. The United States and Spain are allies through their joint membership of NATO. The U.S. Navy needs Spain's ports and dockyards, and U.S. planes use its airfields. Many of America's 33 million Hispanics look to Spain as "La Madre Patria," the mother country, their cultural homeland. Sooner or later good sense or political necessity -- whichever comes first -- will put an end to the feud between the White House and Moncloa Palace (the Spanish prime minister's office). Meanwhile, Aznar's gallivanting around the United States is not helping.

Zapatero's government has refrained from criticizing Aznar's continued closeness to the Bush administration. The official line is Aznar is free to travel where he likes. But commentators in Madrid maintain that: (1) the former prime minister is acting out of pique at losing to Zapatero; (2) he is undermining the government's efforts to repair the damage with an important ally, and (3) he is providing the White House with the opportunity to continue snubbing Zapatero.

Aznar is unrepentant and says President Bush is a personal friend, and he has many other American friends. At 52, he is not ready to retire to the role of elder statesman, as an older ex-prime minister might be prepared to do. He had already stepped down from the leadership of the party before the election and would not, therefore, have been prime minister had his Partido Popular won a third term, but he had intended to retain the main contact with Bush.

At the invitation of John di Gioia, the president of Georgetown University, Aznar has been giving a series of lectures in 2004-2005, which brings him to Washington for extended periods. A bid to give Aznar a Congressional Gold Medal appears to be stalled, even though a Washington lobbying firm has obtained 306 signatures from members of Congress -- well over the required 290 minimum.

A decision to drop the initiative, or at least to deliver the medal discreetly in a plain brown paper envelope, would be a signal the Bush administration sees the wisdom of not making things worse with Zapatero. But a ceremonial presentation will be viewed in Madrid as a deliberate slap in the face.

Martes, 8 febrero 2005 REDACCIÓN, IBLNEWS
© IBLNEWS. New York, 1997-2003

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