WASHINGTON – Memo to John McCain: Spain is in Europe and – last time anyone checked – still one of America’s NATO allies.
The Republican presidential candidate has sparked an uproar among Spaniards after suggesting the nation was hostile to U.S. interests, and indicating the country’s prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, would not be welcome in a McCain-led White House.
During a radio interview this week with a Miami-based radio station, McCain repeatedly rebuffed questions about whether he would extend an invitation for the leftist Zapatero to visit the White House.
“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,” he said. “And that’s judged on the basis of the importance of our relationship with Latin America and the entire region.”
When the interviewer clarified she was talking about Europe – and specifically the leader of Spain - McCain sounded perplexed.
“What about me, what?” he responded.
In all, McCain said four times he was interested only in meeting with leaders who wanted to work in co-operation with the United States. He never mentioned Zapatero by name, prompting several U.S. media outlets to conclude McCain didn’t know who the interviewer was talking about.
Leading up to the questions on Spain, McCain had spoken of U.S. relations with Latin America and ruled out unconditional meetings with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Cuba’s Raul Castro.
“Would that invitation be extended to the Zapatero government?” the reporter asked.
“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,” McCain responded.
The Spanish press has not been impressed.
“In the best-case scenario, (McCain) demonstrates his ignorance with respect to Zapatero,” said El Pais newspaper.
There was speculation Thursday, however, that McCain couldn’t understand the interviewer, who spoke in heavily-accented English.
McCain’s campaign insisted Thursday that, no, he understand the questions just fine.
“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,” Randy Schuenemann, a campaign foreign policy adviser, said in an e-mail to U.S. media outlets. “Senator McCain refused to commit to a White House meeting with President Zapatero in this interview.”
U.S. relations with Zapatero’s socialist government have been strained since Spain’s decision to withdraw its troops from Iraq in 2004, after the Madrid train bombing. He has never had a bilateral meeting with President George W. Bush.
Spain has about 1,000 troops in Afghanistan.
Earlier this year, McCain told a Spanish interviewer it was time for the U.S. to “leave behind discrepancies with Spain” and said he “would like” for Zapatero to visit America.
John McCain Makes Spanish Gaffes During Interview
Posted September 18, 2008
Where is Spain, John McCain?
Republican Presidential John McCain showed some confusion Wednesday night about the identity of the Prime Minister of Spain and exactly where that country of 40 million people is located.
In an interview with a Florida affiliate of Spain's Union Radio, McCain was asked, if elected president, would he invite Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero to the White House.
"I would be willing to meet with those leaders who are friends and want to work with us in a cooperative fashion," McCain said. He then mentioned Mexican President Calderon, who he said "is fighting a very tough fight against the drug cartels."
When the reporter repeated that he was talking about Spain, McCain responded: "I know the issues, I know the leaders."
Asked again if he would invite Zapatero, McCain shot back:
"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."
Spain is a longtime NATO ally, has nearly 1,000 soldiers fighting with the U.S. in Afghanistan, and was the target one of the worst Al Qaeda attacks in 2004.
It is also happens to be located in Europe, not the Western Hemisphere - and Zapatero is no johnny-come-lately: He's been in office for four years.