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Rajoy debuts on global stage to sing Spain's virtues

Premier-elect to underscore commitment to austerity

Prime Minister-elect Mariano Rajoy on Wednesday faced his first baptism of fire on the international scene as Spain's de-facto leader in an hour-long meeting with US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to discuss the euro-zone sovereign debt crisis.

Rajoy's encounter with Geithner took take place on the sidelines of a meeting of European Popular Party leaders in the French city of Marseilles.

The Marseilles meeting provides Rajoy with the perfect opportunity to outline how he plans to fulfill Spain's commitment to reducing its budget deficit to 4.4 percent of GDP next year from a projected 6.0 percent this year.

Rajoy, whose Popular Party won an absolute majority in the November 20 general elections, will bring with him a clear message: that he is totally committed to the austerity drive and that his government will have an absolute majority to push unpopular measures through Congress.

He will also go to lengths to distinguish the problems facing Spain from those currently confronting Italy, whose outstanding public debt is much bigger, and to paint his country as a reliable and serious European partner.

Rajoy on Thursday will also meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

After agreeing a united front with Rajoy earlier this week, outgoing Socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero will voice his backing for a joint French-German plan to resolve the euro crisis at an EU summit meeting on Friday in Brussels.