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"If I saw that Spain was really in despair, I may have to step back in to national politics"

US diplomats discuss the opposition PP party's chances of regaining power

US Ambassador Eduardo Aguirre took a special interest in getting to know former Prime Minister José María Aznar, whom he invited to speak with on different occasions about the current political climate in Spain and his Popular Party's future.

Aznar and the leaders of his opposition PP party are the subjects of an array of cablegrams that American Embassy diplomats sent to Washington focusing on different issues. The cables are part of the Wikileaks release that EL PAÍS has been publishing since Monday.

The most interesting diplomatic cable to the State Department concerning Aznar focused on his political future. On June 28, 2007, Aguirre hosted a dinner for the former prime minister and his wife, Ana Botella.

Aznar had complained to the US envoy that Spain "was in the hands of a very bad government whose policies were 'malignantly affecting' the fabric of the country," according to the cable.

Aguirre asked Aznar what he would do if the Zapatero government, as he stated, continued to pursue policies "deleterious to Spain" and if the PP and its current leader Mariano Rajoy failed to gain any ground in future elections.

"If I saw that Spain was really in despair, I may have to step back in to national politics," responded Aznar. According to Aguirre's cable, Aznar said that he could accept a Socialist government, but not the current one headed by Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and his team.

The dinner continued with Aznar not only giving his critical views on the Socialist government but also about leaders of his PP party.

"Aznar's lack of enthusiasm for his hand-picked successor, Rajoy, was noteworthy," Aguirre wrote. "Aznar clearly is troubled by what he believes is happening in Spain and may have doubts that Rajoy is the man to return the PP to power."

The ambassador mentioned that if Rajoy failed to return his party to power, Aznar, Madrid Mayor Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón and former IMF director Rodrigo Rato "may be waiting in the wings."

Assessing the PP

On April 17, 2006, Aguirre wrote a long assessment of the PP, reporting on its political strategy and speculating on its future. The ambassador also explained why he believes the opposition had not been able to take advantage of the Socialists' popularity decline in the polls. "A key reason [...] is its top leadership, with personalities ranging from lackluster to radioactive," he wrote.

On June 24, 2008 in another cable, the envoy said that Rajoy had been able to survive as PP leader regardless of two election defeats- something unimaginable in the United States- because there is a "lack of a credible successor within his own party."

Not only did the ambassador size up PP leaders, but other US diplomats also wrote reports for Washington. On January 29, 2009, US Embassy officials wrote a lengthy summary about the Madrid political spying scandal, describing regional premier Esperanza Aguirre as "a hyper-ambitious politician who sees herself as a future" prime minister. As for Ruiz-Gallardón, US diplomats called him "charming, sharp-witted" with "a reputation for honesty."