The McCain campaign insisted Thursday morning that the Senator meant what he said when, during an interview on Spanish radio, he refused to commit to a meeting with Spain's prime minister, Jose Luis Zapatero.
"The questioner asked several times about Senator McCain's willingness to meet Zapatero (and id'd him in the question so there is no doubt Senator McCain knew exactly to whom the question referred). Senator McCain refused to commit to a White House meeting with President Zapatero in this interview," the Senator's foreign policy adviser Randy Sheunemann told the Washington Post.
Sheunemann's answer is likely to be cause deep ripples within the diplomatic community, as it represents a more aggressive and antagonistic approach than that deployed by the Bush administration. It also promises to be hotly contested, as a review of the McCain interview suggests that the Senator was confused as to who Zapatero actually was.
Appearing on the Miami-based Union Radio, a Spanish language radio station that conducted its interview in English, McCain touted his record "of working with leaders in the hemisphere that are friends with us, and standing up to those who are not." This came even after the questioner began that portion of the interview by saying: "let's talk about Spain." Listen:
Certainly, it is possible that McCain misheard the question, though the topic was subsequently brought up three more times. But Scheunemann is now insisting that the Senator meant what he said. As such, it is important to understand how such a take on U.S.-Spain relations compares with current U.S. policy. As the Huffington Post reported Wednesday evening, the Bush administration has made overt gestures in recent years to overcome what once was a frosty relationship -- derived, primarily, from Spain's decision to remove forces from Iraq -- with the Zapatero government.
In July 2007, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice declared that "the United States and Spain are allies. We're in NATO together; we are serving together in Afghanistan. A lot of our conversation today was about that, working together on any number of issues. We've had our differences... [but] I feel that the relationship is warm. We had a good discussion today... We're allies. But when we have differences, we will express them. I think there's no secret that out of the Iraq war, we had a particular difference in the timing of the withdrawal. But that's behind us now, and we need to look forward and look to areas on which we can cooperate and work together."
In fact, even McCain in the past has been open to closer diplomatic relations with Zapatero and Spain. As John Aravosis of AmericaBlog noted, the Senator gave an interview to El Pais back in April in which he said that the differences between the U.S. and Spain should be swept under the rug.
For what it's worth, Talking Points Memo's Greg Sargent got hold of the interviewer, who says she didn't think McCain was confused about who Zapatero was, but rather was ducking a question about a potential meeting with the prime minister.
"I didn't get the impression that he didn't know who Zapatero was or where Spain was," the reporter, Yoli Cuello, told me. "Honestly, what I thought was that he didn't want to answer the question with a yes or no answer."
Here is the transcript of the radio interview:
QUESTION: Senator, finally, let's talk about Spain. If you're elected president, would you be willing to invite President Jose Luiz Rodriguez Zapatero to the White House to meet with you?
MCCAIN: I would be willing meet, uh, with those leaders who our friends [sic] and want to work with us in a cooperative fashion, and by the way, President Calderon of Mexico is fighting a very very tough fight against the drug cartels. I'm glad we are now working in cooperation with the Mexican government on the Merida plan. I intend to move forward with relations, and invite as many of them as I can, those leaders, to the White House.
QUESTION: Would that invitation be extended to the Zapatero government, to the president itself?
MCCAIN: I don't, you know, honestly I have to look at relations and the situations and the priorities, but I can assure you I will establish closer relations with our friends and I will stand up to those who want to do harm to the United States of America.
QUESTION: So you have to wait and see if he's willing to meet with you, or you'll be able to do it in the White House?
MCCAIN: Well again I don't, all I can tell you is that I have a clear record of working with leaders in the hemisphere that are friends with us, and standing up to those who are not, and that's judged on the basis of the importance of our relationship with Latin America, and the entire region.
QUESTION: Okay... what about Europe I'm talking about the President of Spain?
MCCAIN: What about me what?
QUESTION: Okay... are you willing to meet with him if you are elected president?
MCCAIN: I am willing to meet with any leader who is dedicated to the same principles and philosophy that we are for human rights, democracy and freedom, and I will stand up to those that do not.