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Cablegate: Spanish Royal Visit to Ceuta and Melilla Backfires

VZCZCXRO8280
RR RUEHAG RUEHROV
DE RUEHMD #2070 3091831
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 051831Z NOV 07
FM AMEMBASSY MADRID
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3751
INFO RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE
RUEHRB/AMEMBASSY RABAT 6063
RUEHCL/AMCONSUL CASABLANCA 1535

C O N F I D E N T I A L MADRID 002070

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

FOR EUR/WE

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/05/2017
TAGS: PREL MO SP
SUBJECT: SPANISH ROYAL VISIT TO CEUTA AND MELILLA BACKFIRES
IN SPAIN

REF: A. MADRID DAILY REPORT 11/02/07

B. RABAT 1695

Classified By: DEPUTY CHIEF OF MISSION HUGO LLORENS, REASONS 1.4B AND D
.

1. (C) The strong Moroccan reaction to the November 5-6 visit
of the King and Queen of Spain to Ceuta and Melilla seems to
have caught the Zapatero government completely by surprise.
When Morocco recalled its ambassador, Spanish FM Moratinos
and his number two, Bernardino Leon, were reportedly spending
All Saints Day (effectively a four-day weekend for most
Spaniards) out of the country. Moratinos was on a
semi-private visit to Morocco to attend a cultural event and
Leon was in Tunisia for the opening of a film festival.

2. (C) Zapatero visited Ceuta and Melilla in 2006, and
criticism was more muted than now. Also, a visit by the
Prince of Asturias in 2006 aroused relatively little
controversy. The problem this time may be the head of state
aspect of the visit and its timing, which coincides with the
thirty-second anniversary of Morocco's "Green March" into the
Western Sahara. Moreover, Morocco is in a prickly mood
because the activist Spanish judge Baltazar Garzon announced
October 30 he would investigate possible crimes of genocide
by Moroccan officials in Western Sahara.

3. (C) On November 4, a long weekend got longer for Zapatero
when French President Sarkozy landed in Madrid to return four
Spanish flight attendants who had been jailed in Chad October
25 in a bizarre case in which a French NGO using a chartered
Spanish plane attempted to airlift to France 100 "orphans,"
some of whom were apparently not orphans. Zapatero and
Moratinos were reduced to the role of spectators as Sarkozy
received the embraces of the Spanish women he had freed. The
comparison between Sarkozy's personal intervention and
Zapatero's perceived passivity was widely noted, and
Sarkozy's statement that Zapatero was kept informed of all of
the French initiatives seemed somewhat left-handed. The
cruelest cut may have come from the generally left-leaning
daily El Pais, which reported that the Spanish Foreign
Ministry had not even been able to organize a plane to go to
Chad to repatriate the flight attendants.

4. (C) Comment: Timing is everything. We suspect the
Zapatero government saw the royal visit four months before
Spain's elections as a relatively low cost way to wave the
flag and beat back criticism from conservatives who say
Zapatero is weak in the face of regional encroachments on the
central government's power and tepid in defense of the
popular King Juan Carlos. Zapatero's foreign policy advisors
may have calculated that the fallout from the King's visit
would be manageable. It may still prove so, but the fracas,
coming on top of the public perception that Spain was
impotent in Chad, has probably only reinforced Zapatero's
image as a leader who is weak on foreign relations. We also
doubt FM Moratinos stock has risen over this.
AGUIRRE

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