CONDOLEEZA Rice will be in Madrid on Friday, the most senior American representative to visit Spain since April 2004 when the newly-elected Jose Luis Zapatero fulfilled his election promise and pulled 1'300 Spanish troops out of Iraq. It is not clear which side has taken the initiative over this visit but Spain has always said that Dr Rice would be welcome at any time whereas Prime Minister Zapatero and his senior ministers still await an invitation to Washington.

The two countries have plenty to talk about. Cuba remains an issue between them: the United States has criticised Spain's Foreign Minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos, for choosing not to meet Cuban dissidents when he visited the country in April; in response Moratinos has repeated the Spanish government's opinion that there is more to be gained by engaging with the Cuban regime than by continuing to isolate it. In an interview last week the Foreign Minister said that Spain is not not prepared to be absent from Cuba and he suggested that the US should “trust a faithful, solid ally like Spain”. Agreement may be somewhat easier over Venezuela; Zapatero was initially positively disposed towards president Hugo Chavez but his increasingly autocratic actions may have led to a modification of that view. Dr Rice's visit is probably no more than a first step towards rebuilding a Washington-Madrid relationship that should never have been broken so abruptly as punishment for Zapatero's democratic action over an election pledge.


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