Cable reference id: #09MADRID467

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SubjectScenesetter For Secretary Lahood’s Visit, May 29-30, 2009
OriginEmbassy Madrid (Spain)
Cable timeThu, 14 May 2009 12:32 UTC
Referenced by09BERLIN603
  • Time unknown: Original unredacted version, leaked to Wikileaks
  • Wed, 24 Aug 2011 18:27: First publication, unredacted, however non-text content differs
  • Thu, 1 Sep 2011 23:24: Original unredacted version published, with HTML goodies

DE RUEHMD #0467/01 1341232
P 141232Z MAY 09
Hide header



E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ELTN [Land Transportation], OVIP [Visits and Travel of Prominent Individuals and Leaders], PGOV [Internal Governmental Affairs], PREL [External Political Relations], SP [Spain; Balearic Islands; Canary Islands; Mallorca]
29-30, 2009

¶1. (SBU) Embassy Madrid warmly welcomes your visit to Spain.
U.S.-Spain relations are strong and based on shared global
interests, including the fight against terrorism, the
bilateral military relationship, our association in NATO, and
economic ties. Since the November election, a strong
atmosphere of goodwill and optimism has emerged for
increasingly closer bilateral relations and cooperation.
President Obama,s recent remarks about Spain,s high-speed
train network were widely reported in the press and prompted
responses by Development (Public Works) Minister Blanco and
other officials. You are the first Cabinet member to visit
Spain since the election, and your visit will be welcomed as
a sign of a desire for warm relations. Minister Blanco and
President Zapatero will want to explain Spain,s success in
high-speed rail and promote opportunities in the U.S. for
Spanish companies.


¶2. (SBU) Spain is an important friend and ally of the U.S.,
and we value its cooperation in the fights against terrorism
and narcotics and on security issues. Spanish troops are
carrying out important missions in countries such as
Afghanistan and Lebanon. Spain has long fought a domestic
terrorist threat from the Basque terrorist group ETA and
suffered tragically from Islamic extremist terrorism in the
2004 Madrid train bombings. Since winning a second term in
March 2008, President Zapatero has publicly and privately
stressed his desire to further improve bilateral relations.
The relationship will be of increasing importance when Spain
takes over the EU presidency in January 2010.

¶3. (SBU) Despite differences over Spain,s withdrawal from
Iraq in 2004 and more recently over support for an
independent Kosovo, Spain values its relations with the U.S.
and is a strong bilateral defense partner. Even after
withdrawing its military forces, Spain remained a donor to
Iraq reconstruction and maintained its diplomatic presence
there. Spain has troops in Afghanistan and operates a
Provincial Reconstruction Team. It also allows us the use of
two military bases that are critical transit points between
the U.S. and Iraq and Afghanistan. Counter-terrorism and
law-enforcement cooperation is strong, as are commercial and
cultural relations (e.g., tourism). Finally, Spain is a
leader in renewable energy technologies and has important
investments in the U.S. in this field (e.g., wind and solar),
as well as in road construction projects.

¶4. (SBU) Although we expect that your meetings and press
interviews will focus on high-speed rail, two issues that
might possibly be raised by the press during your visit are
activist judge Baltasar Garzon’s universal jurisdiction
claims and Spain’s aspirations to join the G-20 group that
meets to address the international economic crisis. Judge
Garzon, assigned to the Spanish National Court, gained
international publicity in 1998 when he attempted to have
General Augusto Pinochet extradited from Britain to Spain for
human rights abuses. On April 29, he announced an
investigation into allegations that the U.S. tortured
terrorism detainees at Guantanamo. This came days after he
was forced to give up a related complaint filed by an NGO
against six Bush Administration officials. At the urging of
Spanish prosecutors, the earlier case was reassigned to
another National Court judge who has declined to process that
case and offered to transfer the proceedings to the U.S.
under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty. The Chief
Prosecutor for the National Court tells us he will also fight
Garzon’s latest investigation. Nevertheless, Garzon may
attempt to wring all the publicity he can from the case
unless and until he is forced to give it up.

¶5. (SBU) President Zapatero made it a matter of national
pride to participate in the November 2008 and April 2009 G-20
financial summits even though Spain is not a G-20 member. He
and other Spaniards argue that the size of its economy, the
lessons of its regulations, and the importance of its banking
sector in Latin America and elsewhere justify Spanish
participation. He succeeded in participating as a result of
support from French President Sarkozy and UK Prime Minister
Brown, and he is actively seeking support to attend the New
York summit planned for September. After Spain was not
included in the April 24 G-20 finance ministers meeting in
Washington, Economy/Finance Minister and Second Vice
President Elena Salgado met briefly with Treasury Secretary
Geithner in Washington and explained the importance of

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Spanish participation in the New York summit. She said
Secretary Geithner had not promised her anything but
understood her arguments and would take them into
consideration. The Administration has not wanted to expand
the G-20 (which already has five European members), and the
issue has become a point of contention between our two


¶6. (SBU) Zapatero won reelection to a second term in March
2008, but his center-left Spanish Socialist Workers Party
(PSOE) is seven seats shy of a majority in the 350-seat
Congress. Over a year of worse-than-expected economic news
has led to widespread criticism of Zapatero and his economic
policymakers for having downplayed the economic difficulties.
Perhaps as a manifestation of this, Zapatero suffered his
first serious political reverse since winning reelection when
his party lost power in March 2009 regional elections in
Galicia. Zapatero shuffled the cabinet April 7 as a response
to criticism of the GOS’ inability to resolve the economic
crisis and with an eye to the June European Parliament
elections. The most prominent change was the replacement of
the Second Vice President and Minister of Economy/Finance.
The Development (Public Works) Minister was also replaced,
bringing Jose Blanco into the position. Although popularity
ratings for Zapatero and the Socialists are low, the
conservative opposition Popular Party (PP) has not managed to
capitalize on this. The PP has suffered internal divisions
and more recently has been dogged by corruption accusations.
Your visit will take place during campaigning for the June 7
European Parliament elections.


¶7. (SBU) Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero of the Spanish
Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) was thrilled with President
Obama,s victory last November, which gave him an opportunity
to turn around high-level relations with the U.S.
Zapatero,s abrupt withdrawal of Spanish forces from Iraq
immediately after being elected in 2004 led to four years of
cool senior-level relations. The two Presidents never held a
formal meeting, and Zapatero was criticized by the
conservative opposition for poor relations with the U.S.
(even though we had excellent day-to-day cooperation on many
issues). Zapatero,s and the PSOE,s eagerness to forge
close ties with President Obama is evident in the Socialists’
first television ad for next month,s European Parliament
elections, which featured video of the Chicago election night
rally and the words, &Social democracy or neoconservatism.
That day you couldn’t vote. But now you can.8 Zapatero
flew to Chile to meet with the Vice President in March, and
he met with the President on the margins of the U.S.-EU
Prague meeting in April. Both meetings received prominent
media coverage here, as did Zapatero,s informal encounters
with the President at April events in London and Istanbul.
You are the first Cabinet member to visit since the election,
and we believe Zapatero offered to meet with you in part to
show the Spanish public his administration’s closeness to our
very popular President and in part to suggest that this
relationship will pay off in greater infrastructure contracts
for Spanish companies. Zapatero speaks little English.


¶8. (SBU) Jose “Pepe” Blanco is the day-to-day head of the
PSOE (Zapatero is the official party leader) and a trusted
political ally of Zapatero. He retained his party position
upon being named minister last month. His selection was seen
as a way for Zapatero to replace an unpopular predecessor
with a political loyalist and an attempt to get more
political benefit out of infrastructure spending. As party
head, Blanco was often critical of the U.S. and the war in
Iraq, and he frequently plays to the Socialists’ anti-U.S.
base. In October 2008, he blamed Bush administration
policies for the global financial crisis. However, he is a
strong admirer of President Obama and often seeks to
demonstrate the government’s closeness to the Administration.
He attended the Democratic National Convention in August
2008 and went to the Democratic headquarters in Chicago on
the night of the elections. He is very interested in
obtaining favorable media coverage. Soon after the President
praised Spain,s high-speed rail system in calling for
high-speed rail in the U.S., Blanco announced that he would
invite Administration officials to see Spain,s system. (He

MADRID 00000467 003 OF 004

has not noted that several Congressional, DOT, GAO, and state
delegations have visited Spain in the last two years to learn
about the system.) Blanco does not speak English.


¶9. (SBU) Since Zapatero was re-elected a year ago, the GOS
has faced a deepening economic slump. After 15 years of
rapid economic growth, the end in 2007 of a long construction
boom and the global financial crisis have boosted
unemployment over 17% — the highest rate in the EU. The EC
predicts that Spain will remain in recession throughout 2009
and 2010 after other EU members have emerged, and most
observers expect the unemployment rate to surpass 20%. The
government has responded with a large municipal
infrastructure investment program and other spending efforts,
and the budget has gone from a surplus in 2007 to a deficit
that may approach 10% of GDP this year.

¶10. (SBU) Over a year of worse-than-expected economic news
has led to widespread criticism of Zapatero and his economic
policymakers for their upbeat predictions during the 2008
campaign and for having downplayed the economic difficulties
long after many others were saying Spain was in a crisis. In
addition to responding to political imperatives, the April
Cabinet shuffle was seen as an attempt to increase the pace
of public spending, as new economy/finance minister Salgado
is less concerned about the deficit than was her predecessor.
Spanish banks had little exposure to U.S. mortgages and were
not caught up in the initial wave of European bank turmoil
last year. Some of the credit for this goes to the central
bank’s conservative regulation, including requiring higher
loss provisions in good times and discouraging off-balance
sheet vehicles. However, many savings banks are overly
exposed to troubled domestic construction and real estate
companies. The Bank of Spain took over a small savings bank
in March, and others may have trouble as the economy slows
and loan delinquency rates rise.

¶11. (SBU) The U.S. has long been the most important single
foreign investor in Spain, although U.S. investment is
relatively less important now than it was 30 or 40 years ago.
Spain has become one of the most important investors in the
U.S. in recent years, with significant investment in banking,
wind and solar power, ethanol, road construction, foods, and
insurance. Spanish officials see U.S. stimulus legislation
as a tremendous opportunity for world-class Spanish road,
rail, and renewable energy companies.


¶12. (U) With several main population centers on the coast,
averaging about 350 miles from Madrid, Spain is well-suited
for high-speed rail. The AVE, its high-speed train service,
boasts punctuality and prices competitive with airline
travel, and officials say it is on track to pass France and
Japan in the next few years to become the world’s largest
network. As President Obama recently remarked, more people
travel between Madrid and Seville by rail than by car and
plane combined. Since service between Madrid and Barcelona
was inaugurated last year, rail has taken much of the market
for this route from airlines. A hallmark of the Spanish
approach is the development of variable gauge trains, which
run on existing tracks as well as newer high-speed rails that
are compliant with European standards. High-speed rail is
also popular with the climate-change-conscious government
because it generates fewer CO2 emissions per passenger-mile
than air travel.

¶13. (U) The development of the AVE has benefited from EU
subsidies as well as strong GOS support. The Development
Ministry has purview over all federal transportation issues.
Its two sub-organizations, ADIF and RENFE, are responsible
for rail. ADIF administers existing railway lines,
constructs new lines, and owns most stations. RENFE manages
the trains, cargo and passenger services, and some stations.
Transportation infrastructure investment is guided by the
Ministry’s 15-year strategic plan, which envisions spending
250 billion euros of both public and private funds between
2005 and 2020 to develop transportation in Spain.
Approximately half of that figure will go to railway
development. At present, the following lines exist:
Madrid-Seville-Malaga, Madrid-Zaragoza-Barcelona, and
Madrid-Segovia-Valladolid. Talgo and CAF, both Spanish
companies with interests in the U.S., have supplied railway

MADRID 00000467 004 OF 004

vehicles for the AVE.

¶14. (U) In addition to developing its passenger rail
services, the strategic plan aims to increase freight transit
by rail. At present, only 3% of Spanish cargo is transported
by train. Recognizing American expertise in rail-based
freight transport, GOS officials have expressed great
interest in using your visit to learn from the U.S.
experience. They would like to initiate a dialogue on this
subject with the USG and see it as an area that could provide
opportunities for U.S. companies.


¶15. (SBU) Spanish military cooperation is important to the
U.S. The southern Spanish bases of Rota and Moron are
strategic hubs, midway between the U.S. and theaters of
operation in Afghanistan and Iraq. Spain has troops in
Lebanon (roughly 1,100), Afghanistan (780), Bosnia (260), and
a smattering of others in various UN & EU observer missions.
Spain recently announced a temporary increase in troops to
Afghanistan to assist with forthcoming elections.

¶16. (SBU) Spain is one of only five EU countries that have
not recognized Kosovo’s independence. President Zapatero
continues to deny recognition of an independent Kosovo state
“out of political conviction” and in accordance with his
interpretation of international law. Most recently, on March
19 the government announced the withdrawal of the 600 Spanish
troops in NATO,s KFOR mission by the end of this summer.
The government suffered severe public and private criticism
for the failure to coordinate, even from Spanish commentators
who favored the withdrawal. When the Vice President met with
Zapatero in Chile in March, he told reporters afterwards
that, &the relationship we have with Spain exceeds whatever
disagreement we may have over Kosovo.8

¶17. (SBU) Spain is an al-Qaeda target and a critical player
in U.S.-EU counterterrorism efforts due to its proximity to
the Maghreb and a population that includes more than a
million Muslims, mostly immigrants. The March 11, 2004, train
bombings killed 191 persons and injured nearly 2,000 more,
making it the second deadliest terror attack in European
history. The Spanish government considers the threat from
Islamic terrorism to be one of its top national security
priorities and has identified numerous Islamic extremist
groups operating within its borders. The Spanish are actively
pursuing Islamic extremism terrorism-related investigations
and have scores of suspects in jail.


¶18. (U) In general, Spain is safe. However, Madrid and other
large cities attract a large number of criminals and
pickpockets, and frequent crimes of opportunity against the
unwary do occur. It is best to carry only essential items,
including a photocopy of your passport’s photo page. Visitors
can protect themselves against crime by being street-smart,
alert and aware of their surroundings. Travelers are
encouraged to review the most recent Worldwide Caution issued
by the Department of State. As the Department of State
continues to develop information on any potential security
threats to Americans overseas, it shares credible threat
information through its Consular Information Program
documents, available on the Internet at
http://travel/ Additional information regarding
safety and security in Spain is available on the U.S.
Department of State’s website (