Rice's Stop in Spain Signals Thaw; Chill Over Cuba Persists

Secretary Rice is the first senior U.S. official to visit Spain since its troops withdrew from Iraq in 2004.
Secretary Rice is the first senior U.S. official to visit Spain since its troops withdrew from Iraq in 2004. (J. J. Guillen - AP)
By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 2, 2007

MADRID, June 1 -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a lightning stop here Friday, intending to signal an end to the Bush administration's diplomatic deepfreeze of the Spanish government, but new tensions emerged over dealings with Cuba.

Spanish officials were annoyed that Rice earlier this week rapped Foreign Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos for visiting Havana without meeting dissidents. Speaking to reporters as she flew here from Berlin, Rice reiterated those comments.

Cuba has "a major transition coming," she said, alluding to the illness of longtime leader Fidel Castro. "I think democratic states have an obligation to act democratically, to support opposition in Cuba, not to give the regime the idea that it is just going to be transition from one dictatorship to another."

Talking to reporters after a long meeting, Moratinos and Rice tried to play down their differences by noting that they shared the goal of a democratic government for Cuba. But when Moratinos defended the Spanish approach of engagement with the Cuban government and suggested that eventually Rice would see the merit of that method, Rice rolled her eyes, turned to U.S. reporters and silently mouthed, "Don't hold your breath."

"I have real doubts about the value of engagement with a regime that is anti-democratic and that appears to be arranging a transition from one anti-democratic regime to another anti-democratic regime," Rice said.

Rice also met with Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, King Juan Carlos and opposition leaders.

The former conservative government was one of the Bush administration's strongest allies, and then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell went to Spain almost every six months. But no senior U.S. official has visited the country in three years, ever since the new Socialist-led government abruptly withdrew troops from Iraq after a terrorist attack in Madrid.

Zapatero openly rooted for a John Kerry victory in the 2004 election, calling the occupation of Iraq "a fiasco" and saying he looked forward to a period of "no wars for oil" during a Kerry administration. Bush refused to accept a congratulatory phone call from Zapatero after the election.

Rice said here that the problem was not that Spain left Iraq but the way the announcement was handled. "We had our differences," she said. "We have overcome those differences with almost everybody, and we have overcome that with Spain."

But local media focused on the brevity of Rice's visit, noting that the fact she did not stay overnight suggested Spain still had not been forgiven by the Bush administration.

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