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US ROYAL VISIT

Obama expresses deep commitment to “strong, unified Spain”

King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia make first official visit to the United States

While not explicitly mentioned, the Catalan issue hovered over Washington meeting

US President Barack Obama on Tuesday said that his country is “deeply committed to maintaining a relationship with a strong and unified Spain.”

The remark came after a bilateral meeting in Washington DC with King Felipe VI, who was in the US on a state visit with Queen Letizia.

Obama’s words served as a reminder of the tension felt in Spain over the Catalan elections scheduled for September

His words also served as a reminder of the tension felt in Spain over the Catalan elections scheduled for September 27, which secessionists are casting as a de facto referendum on independence.

Catalan premier Artur Mas has stated that if his Junts pel Si (Together for Yes) bloc wins an absolute majority of seats in the regional parliament, he will feel legitimized to forge ahead with the independence process.

The US president did not specifically mention Catalonia in his address, and later avoided EL PAIS’ questions on whether he and the Spanish monarch had discussed the issue during their nearly hour-long meeting.

But his mention of a “strong and unified Spain” satisfies the Spanish government’s desire for more explicit support from its allies with regard to the possibility of secession by the northeastern region. Earlier this month, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and UK Prime Minister David Cameron publicly expressed similar support.

“As a matter of foreign policy, we are deeply committed to maintaining a relationship with a strong and unified Spain. We think that Spain’s presence is important not only to Europe, but also to the United States and also to the world,” said Obama, sitting next to Felipe VI inside the Oval Office.

The US leader also expressed his wish to visit Spain before his term ends in January 2017.

We think that Spain’s presence is important not only to Europe, but also to the United States and also to the world”

Felipe VI made some remarks of his own afterwards, highlighting the time he spent in Washington as a student at Georgetown University and celebrating “the ongoing relationships of all our governments.”

But he did not touch on domestic issues, not even in passing. When EL PAÍS specifically asked whether both leaders had discussed Catalonia, Obama responded with a “Thank you.”

Secretary of State John Kerry later expressed almost identical views as Obama in a joint appearance with Spain’s Foreign Minister, José Manuel García-Margallo.

Obama and Kerry’s remarks on Spain are, in turn, nearly identical to those pronounced by the president in June 2014, at a press conference on the possibility of an independent Scotland. While underscoring that the Scottish were the ones to decide their own future in their September referendum, he added that the US had a deep interest in ensuring that one of its closest allies would continue to be a strong, united and effective partner.

This has always been the traditional US position with regard to its allies. And while Spain does not qualify for the category of close and special ally, as Britain does, it remains a loyal partner at NATO and other global forums.

Obama and Kerry’s remarks on Spain are, in turn, nearly identical to those pronounced by the president in 2014

The international scene has become a battleground for supporters and detractors of Catalan independence. The regional government, run by the nationalist Convergència Democrática de Catalunya (CDC), has been deploying a major effort in Washington to sell its plan for a viable independent state.

The underlying idea is that putting the issue on the international agenda is the best way to garner support for the secessionist cause.

English version by Susana Urra.

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