Where the World's Views of America Come into Focus
Feb. 24, 2005
By Martine Silber
"Hola! That tal, amigo?" (Hello, how are you, my friend?). The Spanish phrase, uttered last Tuesday in Brussels by U.S. President George W. Bush to the head of the Spanish government, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, took place just before a meeting of NATO leaders. Zapatero answered, "Muy bien, y tu? " (Very well, and you?), was scrupulously reported back by the Spanish press.
The newspapers even had analysis of this short meeting, seven seconds in all. Five for saying hello, and two for the 'family' photograph and to say goodbye.
Not to be outdone, television news programs eagerly led their broadcasts this "great moment," however short, when the American president approached Mr. Zapatero. They also showed Mr. Zapatero almost timidly approaching Mr. Bush to exchange handshakes after the group photos. In press conference later, Mr. Zapatero would describe his meeting with the American president as "cordial, correct and reasonable," although his entourage had cautioned that there had been no official meeting between the two leaders.
The much-discussed thaw in transatlantic relations, and in particular those between George Bush and Jacques Chirac, was much commented on, especially by media close to the Popular Party [the party of former president Aznar], which reproached the socialist government for its bad relations with the United States.
The former head of government, Jose Maria Aznar, cultivated the best relations with "his friend Bush," and had been filmed at Bush's side, his feet on an Oval Office coffee table. Mr. Zapatero, who won the 2004 presidential election because voters opposed the war in Iraq, dissatisfied the Americans. Just hours after his electoral victory, he announced, as promised, the withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq.
And the Americans never forgot his failure to rise, in October 2003, when the American flag passed during an annual military procession on Spain's national feast day.
But a thaw is perhaps on the agenda. Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos is to meet his counterpart Condoleezza Rice in Washington in April. As for Mr. Aznar, he has withdrawn from political life, it gives seminars at Georgetown University in Washington.