McCain 'confused' over Spain PM
By Lourdes Heredia
BBC News, Washington
US Republican presidential candidate John McCain has raised suspicions in Spain that he thinks the country's prime minister is Latin American.
Asked by a Miami radio station if he would meet PM Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Mr McCain spoke of his record with leaders in "the hemisphere".
His answer led some to suggest he thought Mr Zapatero was Latin American.
Mr McCain's campaign team denied any gaffe, but did say the candidate had refused to commit to a meeting.
Spanish media have suggested that stance could be a sign Mr McCain has not forgiven Mr Zapatero for pulling Spanish troops out of Iraq when he became prime minister in 2004.
Before asking Mr McCain about Mr Zapatero, the Spanish interviewer repeatedly questioned Mr McCain about Latin American leaders, including Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Bolivia's Evo Morales, with whom the US has a fraught relationship.
But the interviewer then changed the subject by saying: "Let's talk about Spain.
"If you are elected president, would you be willing to invite Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero to the White House to meet with you?"
"I would be willing to meet with those leaders who are our friends and who want to work with us in co-operative fashion," Mr McCain answered, before moving on to talk about US relations with Mexico.
He did not even mention Zapatero's name
Spanish digital newspaper
In an effort to draw an answer, the Caracol Miami reported posed the same question three more times. Mr McCain gave more or less the same response, saying at one stage:
"All I can tell you is that I have a clear record of working with leaders in the hemisphere that are friends with us and standing up to those who are not.
"And that's judged on the basis of the importance of our relationship with Latin America and the entire region."
But Mr McCain's answer has itself posed more questions.
Did Mr McCain forget which country Mr Zapatero leads? Did he misunderstand or mishear the question? Or was he intentionally signalling a cooling in the relationship between Spain and the US?
Mr McCain's foreign policy adviser, Randy Sheunemann, said that there was no doubt about the senator's answers.
"The questioner asked several times about Senator McCain's willingness to meet Zapatero, and identified him in the question, so there is no doubt Senator McCain knew exactly to whom the question referred," he wrote in an email to the Washington Post.
"Senator McCain refused to commit to a White House meeting with President Zapatero in this interview," he confirmed.
In Spain, opinion was divided on the ambiguous answer.
One interpretation is that Mr McCain has not forgiven Mr Zapatero for deciding to pull Spanish troops out of Iraq upon taking office in April 2004.
"McCain was asked four times and four times he avoided committing to a meeting with Zapatero", wrote the Spanish newspaper El Pais.
That would be a big change from April, the newspaper said, when the candidate told a reporter "it is the moment to leave behind discrepancies with Spain."
Other newspapers were more critical.
"He did not even mention Zapatero's name" wrote El Semana Digital, an online newspaper.
Mr Zapatero, himself did not give much credence to this episode, telling Spanish media that his government would work with Washington "whoever wins the elections" in the US.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2008/09/18 21:47:17 GMT
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