It will be a meeting between an acting head of government and a president who is counting down the months before elections in his own country.
Even so, Spanish diplomatic sources said that Obama’s visit “is of great relevance to Spain, because it will represent a very positive balance for the last few years of bilateral relations and it will reinforce the relationship with a view to the coming years.”
It would have been an anomaly for Obama to leave the White House without once visiting Spain. Since the days of Richard Nixon, every president has come here, the last being George W. Bush in June 2001. For Obama to break this tradition would have conveyed a negative image that does not reflect reality.
Spain is one of our oldest and closest allies, from the defense and security of our citizens to trade and investment
US Ambassador James Costos
“Given that Obama is about to reach his eighth year of service in the White House, it was very odd for him not to have come to Madrid yet, especially considering that [Spanish royals] Don Felipe and Doña Letizia visited Washington in September 2015, with the US being one of their first destinations as king and queen of Spain,” said Charles Powell, director of the think tank Real Instituto Elcano, in an email.
“On the other hand, the Rajoy administration has done everything in its power to respond favorably to US petitions regarding the bases in Morón and Rota, leading to a certain degree or re-militarization of the bilateral relationship, which deserved some kind of recognition from the United States,” added Powell, who is also the author of El amigo americano. España y Estados Unidos: de la dictadura a la democracia (or, Our American Friend. Spain and the United States: from dictatorship to democracy).
The US ambassador to Spain, James Costos, issued a statement celebrating Obama’s visit.
“US President Barack Obama’s upcoming visit to Spain represents an important step forward in the United States’ relationship with Spain,” said the press release. “Spain is one of our oldest and closest allies, from the defense and security of our citizens to trade and investment.”
Seville and a US base
Obama’s agenda also includes a private visit to Seville, and a public event at one of the two military bases that the US has in Rota (Cádiz) and Morón de la Frontera (Seville).
“The visit to Spain, an important NATO Ally, will highlight robust security cooperation, a strong political and economic relationship, and longstanding people-to-people ties,” said White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest.
Ever since he arrived at the White House in 2009, Obama has visited 13 European countries. While Spain is not a geopolitical priority, the president has always had a soft spot for this country. He was here in 1988, when he was still a 26-year-old backpacker.
While that statement only says that Obama will meet with “His Majesty the King of Spain and the Acting President [sic] of Spain,” the Spanish Foreign Ministry specifically mentions Mariano Rajoy.
Spain, which has been under a caretaker government since the inconclusive elections of December 20, will vote again on June 26. Rajoy is expected to win again, though not by a large enough margin to form a government without support from other parties.
The Spanish Foreign Ministry also noted that Obama’s visit, which comes six months before the end of his presidential term, is the result of a personal invitation from King Felipe VI.
Obama had already mentioned the possibility of a trip to Spain in April, when he discussed the issue with acting Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo at a summit on nuclear safety held in Washington DC.
García-Margallo admitted at the time that the lack of an official government in Spain was hampering the decision, but Obama has ultimately decided to take this opportunity, as he may well not have another.
English version by Susana Urra.