Cablegate: Dealing with Zapatero: An Inexperienced But
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MADRID 000960
E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/18/2014
TAGS: PGOV PREL SP PSOE
SUBJECT: DEALING WITH ZAPATERO: AN INEXPERIENCED BUT
PROBABLY MANAGEABLE PARTNER
Classified By: Ambassador George Argyros for reasons 1.4 (B) and (D).
1. (C) Summary: This message provides initial embassy
thinking on how to deal with President-Elect Zapatero in the
lead up to his government's formation and the early stages of
his administration. Zapatero has no experience in
administration or foreign affairs. He is likely to be a
difficult but manageable interlocutor and carries with him
the Spanish Left's skepticism of U.S. motives. Opposition to
the war in Iraq is central to Zapatero,s appeal to voters.
Nonetheless a UNSCR that gave the UN a leading role in the
Iraq mission could allow Zapatero to save face and agree to
maintain Spanish forces in Iraq. End summary.
2. (C) Some things to bear in mind
--It is important to recall that Zapatero, who is 43, has no
experience whatsoever in government administration. He has
served as a member of the Parliament since he was 26.
--The Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) was shocked that
they won the elections and Zapatero and his people are
scrambling to figure out what to do. He also made a number
of campaign statements that might have come out differently
had he thought he had a real chance of becoming president of
the government of Spain.
--As leader of Spain, Zapatero will be able to draw on some
experienced PSOE party operatives and experienced diplomats
and economists such as Miguel Angel Moratinos and Miguel
Sebastian. But he will also have to make certain he does not
provoke the image that he is replaying the corrupt government
of Felipe Gonzalez, the PSOE President of Spain from
1982-1996. So his team likely will include a mix of
experienced people and newer and less experienced hands. The
learning curve will be steep. Zapatero and his team will
have a certain settling in period once the reality of
government sets in.
--We have already seen some 'wiggle room' in public
statements on certain issues, including possibly on the pull
out of Spanish troops from Iraq. Zapatero,s possible
foreign minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos indicated in the
March 18 Wall Street Journal that a UN resolution prior to
June 30 could provide the context in which Spanish troops
could remain. If by May we are beginning to negotiate a
resolution and if France and Germany are on board, Zapatero
might agree to leave the troops in Iraq.
--Zapatero will have to work to dispel the image that he won
because he will appease terrorists (or that he was elected by
Al-Qaeda). He will almost certainly hear from his European
colleagues on this issue. He will have to calibrate his
decisions to avoid the impression that terrorists can
influence his foreign policy moves.
--Though terrorism and foreign policy are now front and
center for Zapatero, many Spaniards believe his main
challenge will be handling the increasingly vocal nationalist
tendencies in Catalonia and the Basque region, which could
threaten the Spanish constitutional order. Zapatero does not
have the gravitas nor the credibility to deal with these
issues effectively, many fear. It is not in the U.S.
interest to see instability in the Spanish national system.
--Under Zapatero, Spain will continue to face a terrorist
threat, both from Al-Qaeda and from ETA. This is our most
significant common challenge, on which we should seek to
build a firm relationship.
--On macro-economic issues, we can expect sound policies.
The PSOE initiated many of the reforms which laid the basis
for Spain,s current economic success, and Zapatero himself
has credited the success of Aznar,s economic policies in the
past. Zapatero has already endorsed PP Minister of Economy
Rato to head the IMF. There are continued grounds for
cooperation in this area.
--The USG has worked well with previous socialist
governments. Under Felipe Gonzalez, Spain reaffirmed its
membership in NATO, despite the Socialists, previous
opposition to NATO membership. We negotiated a renewal of
our bilateral defense agreements. There is a positive
history with PSOE on which to build.
--We will have to accept that there are some issues on which
we will disagree with the Zapatero government. Zapatero,s
political philosophy, and that of his closest associates, is
grounded in the European Left,s reflexive skepticism about
U.S. motives at best, and anti-Americanism at worst.
--We have long-term interests in Spain that transcend
governments in power. Spain is a NATO ally, a strong and
growing economic force in the EU with shared common
historical and linguistic links with the Americas. Knowledge
of and ties with the U.S., however, remain quite thin.
Zapatero has little understanding of the U.S.
--Spanish democracy is still rather immature - less than 30
years old. The high voter turnout last week was a victory
for democracy in Spain. We should avoid castigating Spanish
voters and allow them to come to their own conclusions about
the government that they have elected, albeit under
3. (C) Our overall approach
--We believe it is in U.S. interest, both for relations with
Spain and more broadly in Europe and in the Iraq Coalition
that we allow Zapatero some time before we come to
conclusions about steps he will take, including on Iraq.
--The public line the White House and the Department have
thus far taken, for example in the White House and Department
briefings of March 16, is working and we can already see it
resonating through opinion pieces in Spanish media. This
will help us avoid an unhelpful U.S.-vs- Zapatero image that
may be difficult to dispel later on when some rapprochement
might be possible or needed by us or Spain for other reasons.
--Rather, we should emphasize our long-term interests in and
alliance with Spain, our good relations with the previous
PSOE government, our shared interest combating terrorism, the
strength of our economic relations and our shared interest in
repairing strained transatlantic relations (the theme here is
that Zapatero need not choose between Europe and the United
--We should allow other European leaders to express their
concerns to Zapatero about the appearance of giving in to
terrorism. The views of France and Germany carry particular
weight with Zapatero. We should offer our support and advice
in the effort against terrorism, and should continue to do so
at the highest levels.
--We should also emphasize that transatlantic relations and
close ties with Europe are not either/or propositions. The
U.S. strongly supports European integration and enlargement.
4. (C) It will be important that the USG seek to engage
Zapatero and his new team at senior levels as soon as
possible, and continue practical areas of U.S. - Spanish
cooperation that are outside of the difficult issues such as
Some suggested practical steps:
--Secretary Powell connect with probable PSOE Foreign
Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos as soon as possible.
--Presidential letter to Zapatero as soon as he is invested
(probably in late April); second congratulatory phone call as
soon as he is in office.
--Offer high-level intelligence briefing to Zapatero on
counter-terrorism and other key world issues.
--Suggest that Zapatero would be welcome in Washington as
soon as he is able to visit.
--Engage at high levels on counter-terrorism cooperation,
with a visit by Secretary Ridge to meet with his counterpart
(under new ministry name of Ministry of Security) once the
new government is invested, and follow up at other levels
--Suggest regular high-level and working-level consultations
with new MFA on key issues - Middle East, Latin America, UN
Security Council issues, human rights, common threats and
challenges. Public diplomacy outreach the primacy and
breadth of the U.S. - EU relationship will also be important.
--Defense issues: Spain reaffirmed its membership in NATO
under PSOE government. We should continue our good level of
defense dialogue, contacts, and cooperation, including in the
Balkans and Afghanistan; dialogue on Iraq if we get a new UN
resolution. Continue "business as usual" with
--Terrorism Finance: The events of March 11 represent an
opportunity to persuade Spain to take a greater leadership
role on these issues in the EU and elsewhere, particularly in
terms of assistance. Spain had proposed hosting a terrorism
finance conference early this year. We should convey our
willingness to support such a conference should the
government wish to do so. We should also continue our
willingness to consider Spain for standing membership in the
--Iraq Contracts: The Spanish private sector continues to
show interest in and frustration with the contracting
process. We believe Spanish companies have a lot to offer.
We recommend going ahead with tentative plans to have the
CPA,s Program Management Office (PMO) brief on
subcontracting (sponsored by a private sector entity) in late
April as currently planned. It will demonstrate the possible
benefits of cooperation.
--Trade Issues: We recommend signaling to the new trade team
a willingness to consult on the Doha Round and progress in
the FTAA - a likely area of continued interest for the new
--Housing: Zapatero has already signaled that housing will
be a key issue for his government and has already said he
will create a housing ministry. Based on the U.S.-Spain
Housing forums which took place under former HUD Secretary
Martinez, leadership with the Ministry of Public Works
(where housing currently stands) suggest a dialogue with HUD
as soon as this ministry is established, building on ties
already created, many of which at the working level will
--R&D/S&T/Productivity: There is a wide scope for increased
R&D cooperation given that the PSOE platform included a
pledge to significantly increase the amount of R&D spending.
Along the same lines, improving worker productivity is
another key PSOE pledge. As a leader in this area, U.S. may
be able to share experiences with the new government.
5. (C) Possible PSOE response
--Zapatero likely will prove an inexperienced partner. There
are a number of issues on which he will clearly differ from
Aznar, but there are areas on which we can build on long-term
What will change
--From the PSOE side, we can expect some initial reservations
about our engagement overtures. But as the reality of
government sets in, Zapatero and his team may welcome a
matter of fact approach from us focused on practical steps in
areas on which we can agree.
--Zapatero,s European focus will be a key element of his
foreign policy. He has made it clear he intends to follow
the lines of France and Germany on most issues. He has
already said that he will drop Aznar,s insistence in the EU
constitution debate on maintaining the Nice treaty voting
formulas. Again, though, as Zapatero realizes he is
governing one of Europe,s fastest growing economies, he will
quickly find that on some issues Spain will want to have a
voice that is separate from those of France and Germany. But
as our relationship with France and Germany evolves, we may
find areas of opportunity with Spain under PSOE as well.