Thursday, November 25, 2004

KING JUAN CARLOS and Queen Sofia were in Bush's ranch in Crawford for a private lunch meeting yesterday. As I wrote a few days ago, this is not proof that the Bush administration is 'reaching out to Zapatero' (as the state-run EFE news agency in Spain, and the LA Times in the US, are spinning), but just the opposite: by reaching out to the Spanish highest institutional figures with only symbolic and not executive power, Bush is proving that he's far from the un-nuanced moron as so many simplistically are portraying him. He's clearly signaling that he has no problem against Spain as a country and its people per se; just against Zapatero's current administration.

Reuters gets it (yes, you heard that right, Reuters!):
President George W. Bush played host at his Texas ranch to the king and queen of Spain on Wednesday, and said the country remained a "good friend" despite his differences with the prime minister over Iraq.

"Spain's a great country and a good friend," Bush told reporters when asked what signal he was sending by treating King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia to a coveted visit to his Crawford ranch.

U.S.-Spanish relations were dealt a blow when Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero pulled Spanish troops out of Iraq immediately after he took office in April.

Zapatero reached out to Bush soon after the Nov. 2 presidential election, calling to congratulate him on his victory.

But Zapatero's call has yet to be returned.

White House officials said the problem was scheduling a convenient time for both leaders to talk. But the delay is widely seen in diplomatic circles as a snub by Washington over the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, which Bush said emboldened the terrorists.

Instead, Bush sent Zapatero a brief "thank you" note.

Ranch visits are generally reserved for Bush's closest allies and friends, and administration officials said Wednesday's turkey-and-stuffing lunch was Bush's way of highlighting his close personal relationship with the king and queen despite policy differences with the prime minister.

"The president and the king have a long-standing relationship that predates Zapatero," an administration official said. "This is the holidays. These are royalty that play no policy-making role in their country, and they are good friends of the United States."

Bush was a close ally of Spain's conservative prime minister, Jose Maria Aznar, before Zapatero swept to power, and the two met at the White House earlier this month.
Zapatero has been sitting by the phone like a college freshman on a Saturday night waiting for the captain of the football team to call asking her out. After a few days with the phone silent, he sent the King and Queen with a kind of olive branch, which at the same time would allow to 'sell' his 'diplomatic skills' to the Spanish populace ("See, I'm mending fences, no real harm done").

What he doesn't realize, poor him, is that he unwillingly handed Bush another chance of subtly slapping him on the face. Go Bush!