President Barack Obama will host Spain’s President Mariano Rajoy on January 13, following the latter’s arrival at Andrews AFB in Washington DC today. Speaking to reporters on January 10, White House spokesman Jay Carney said that his boss expects to emphasize the "the strength and depth of the United States' relationship with Spain." Carney said the two chief executives will have a working meeting on "promoting economic growth and new jobs, support for the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership." In addition, the two presidents will discuss "cooperation within NATO, Latin America, shared challenges in North Africa and the Middle East and other topics of mutual interest."
Sources in Rajoy’s government are saying that Rajoy’s two-day working trip may serve to mend fences between the two NATO partners. Under the Socialist government of Rajoy’s predecessor, José Luis Zapatero, relations between the two countries grew progressively colder. Under President José María Aznar, Rajoy’s fellow member of Spain’s Popular Party, Spain was an ally of the U.S. in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Spain continues to be a valued ally of the U.S. and NATO.
However, the Spanish delegation knocking at Obama’s door expects to build upon the already close relations in the area of defense. There are some in Spain who consider that the relationship is rather lop-sided in favor of the U.S. Besides the U.S. anti-missile defense system and naval base at Rota, Spain is also hot to a rapid response force that is poised for action in Africa’s Sahel region. In 2012, some 500 Marines were stationed in Spain at the air base at Morón and were authorized to remain until April of this year. In December 2012, Marines were deployed to the Horn of Africa to remain ready for action in the Sudan or Egypt.
President Rajoy and his diplomatic representatives are expected to discuss with their U.S. counterparts their shared interests in Africa and whether the Marines will remain in Spain. Another issue that may be discussed is the long-standing diplomatic and military standoff between the U.S. and Cuba. Spain, because of its historic and commercial ties to the former colony, has long seen itself as an arbiter in the tense relationship the U.S. has with Cuba and the Castro government.
While the U.S. unemployment figures are nettlesome, as are the recent figures that show that only 62.8 percent of the U.S. labor force is employed or looking for employment, Spain’s unemployment situation and general economy are decidedly down-beat. Spain’s unemployment rate is currently 26.7 percent, which is more than double the amount for the Eurozone as a whole. Also, it ratio of debt to GDP is stratospheric.
Rajoy is coming to the White House to proclaim that there is a “new breeze” wafting through Spain’s doldrums and that the Iberian country is open for business: especially to foreign investors. He will have to convince Obama that Spain is on the mend and that unemployment can be addressed. To that effect, Rajoy is bringing along at least 14 chief executives of Spanish multinational corporations to meet with their counterparts at Hewlett Packard, IBM, General Electric, Lilly, Microsoft, Google, UPS, and others.
On the morning of January 13, President Rajoy and his wife Elvira Fernández will visit Arlington National Cemetery. Following an afternoon meeting in the Oval Office, Obama and Rajoy will have a joint press conference. They are expected to discuss negotiations over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Association, which Spain hopes will favor its automotive and building sectors. The White House has also signaled that it is willing to talk about alleged spying by the National Security Agency, as revealed by the fugitive Edward Snowden and his revelations that the agency had spied on European citizens.
Rajoy will also meet with Christine Lagarde at the International Monetary Fund in Washington. Also on January 13, Rajoy will meet with Congressional leaders and will bestow Senator Bob Martínez (D) with a medal recognizing his work on the USA Spain Council.
Before leaving, Rajoy will host a luncheon on December 14 for the Spanish and U.S. business delegations. Some 150 U.S. corporations are expected to be represented.