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Spanish PM offers to act as negotiator for Trump in Europe, Latin America

Mariano Rajoy conveyed message to US president during 15-minute phone call on Tuesday night

Madrid / Washington

During a conversation with Donald Trump on Tuesday evening, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy offered to act as “interlocutor in Europe, Latin America, and also in North Africa and the Middle East.” Rajoy also told the US president that despite the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, known as Brexit, that “in the coming months the process of European integration will be strengthened,” a goal that the Spanish government will be working toward.

Spanish Prime Minster Mariano Rajoy during a recent trip to Malta. AFP

The Spanish prime minister’s official residence, the Moncloa Palace, said in a statement that Rajoy had spoken with Donald Trump for 15 minutes through translators, as part of the round of calls the US president is making to the leaders of close allies. After talking to Rajoy, Trump spoke with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

According to the Moncloa, Rajoy said he was prepared to “develop a good relationship with the new US administration” and explained to Trump that Spain, “with a stable government and an economy that is growing at more than 3%, is in the best condition to be an interlocutor for the United States.” The press statement does not say whether Rajoy expressed any criticism of Trump’s decision to build a wall along the US-Mexican border or his travel ban on citizens from seven Muslim majority nations.

It is not known whether Rajoy expressed concern over the travel ban or the wall with Mexico

A statement released by the White House is much briefer and does not refer to either of these decisions, which have prompted international criticism. It notes that Trump and Rajoy reaffirmed their bilateral alliance on a series of matters of joint interest and does not go into further detail, beyond citing a number of shared priorities, particularly efforts to eliminate ISIS, as the president’s spokesman, Sean Spicer had already mentioned.

The only topic explicitly mentioned in both press statements is the Atlantic Alliance. Madrid said that both leaders had mentioned they would be at the NATO summit due to be held in May in Brussels and had addressed questions of security and defense. The Spanish press release highlights the importance of the US military bases at Rota and Morón, in southern Spain, along with the participation of Spanish soldiers in training the Iraqi armed forces and close intelligence collaboration between the US and Spanish security forces.

The White House said that Trump had reiterated the United States’ commitment to NATO and emphasized the importance that all NATO allies share the burden of defense spending. Trump’s conversation with France’s President François Hollande on January 28, and with the Italian Prime Minister, Paolo Gentiloni, on Saturday also mentioned this. In his conversation with the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, also on January 28, he reiterated the message that Europe will have to increase its contribution to defense spending.

Following Tuesday evening’s telephone call, Rajoy tweeted that the conversation with Trump had been “cordial” and that it was aimed at “strengthening relations to the benefit of our peoples,” adding: “We are allied nations.”

Spain is aspiring to become a privileged interlocutor for Washington within the EU once the United Kingdom has left, as well as making use of its links to Latin America, although it remains to be seen whether Trump, who has sparked a crisis with Mexico and clashed with France and Germany, would find it useful to assign Rajoy that role.

Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis told the Spanish Senate on Tuesday afternoon that the government is seeking to establish a “frank and constructive” communication channel with the new US administration that would allow deeper cooperation on shared questions and to “address in a frank manner” disagreements. Dastis declined to comment on the first measures taken by Trump, such as the wall with Mexico or the travel ban, but said that Spain “will not renounce the free movement of people and goods,” and would try to convince Washington that the best way to fight against illegal immigration is to work with the countries of origin and transit for migrants.

Trump reiterated to Rajoy that Europe must contribute more to NATO defense spending

Andrés Gil, a senator for the Socialist Party (PSOE), called on Rajoy to demand “respect and dignity” for the Mexican people when speaking with Trump, and described as “particularly painful and humiliating” the Spanish government’s “wall of silence” in the face of the “wall of shame” that the US administration wants to build along the border with its southern neighbor.

Dastis pointed out that he spoke last week with his Mexican counterpart, Luis Videgaray and that Rajoy had talked with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, expressing to him his “undoubted solidarity” and to tell him he could “count on Spain for any initiative to re-establish good relations and trust with the United States.”

Trump and Rajoy held a 20-minute telephone conversation on December 12, but their talk on Tuesday evening was the first since Trump was inaugurated on January 20. Dastis still hasn’t spoken with the new US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, but hopes to do so at the meeting of G20 foreign ministers to be held on February 16 in Bonn.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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