Sarkozy visits Spain after ‘Zapatero remarks’ controversy
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French President Nicolas Sarkozy has landed in Madrid on a state visit to meet the Spanish prime minister for talks on economic cooperation and efforts to root out Basque separatists.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy met Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Zapatero on Monday on a state visit to Madrid that was to include some political sweet-talk after Sarkozy allegedly described Zapatero as “dim”.
Accompanied by his wife, Italian former model Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, the French president first met with King Juan Carlos for a visit full of pageantry. On Tuesday, he’ll join Zapatero for talks on combating both the economic crisis and the Basque separatist group ETA.
Sarkozy said on Monday evening that relations between the two countries have never been “as strong as they are now”, and stressed that France and Spain “speak with the same voice against terrorism”.
Two weeks ago, Sarkozy triggered media furor around the world after reports emerged that he had disparaged fellow world leaders, including Zapatero, during a meeting with French members of parliament. His comments were subsequently denied by his office at Elysée Palace.
“Perhaps he’s not very smart, but I know people who were very clever and who didn’t make the second round of the presidential election,” Sarkozy was quoted as saying of Zapatero, in a reference to French Socialist candidate Lionel Jospin, who failed to reach the second round of the 2002 French presidential election.
Sarkozy attempted some damage control when he took pains to praise Zapatero as “a man of talent, a man of conviction, one of Europe’s greatest” during an interview with Spain’s El Pais news daily on Sunday.
Sarkozy also reportedly made patronizing remarks about German Chancellor Angela Merkel and belittled US President Barack Obama by saying that Obama had “never run a state or an authority before”.
French Socialist Segolene Royal, Sarkozy’s rival in the 2007 presidential elections, later stoked more controversy when she wrote to Zapatero to apologise for Sarkozy’s comments.
Talks on fighting ETA and shoring up EU economies
The two leaders will discuss increased cooperation between France and Spain, especially in the fight against Spain’s Basque separatists, in the wake of a series of joint operations that recently led to the arrest of several ETA leaders.
“The importance that both governments attach to this cooperation is reflected in the fact that interior ministers will be invited to attend the last part of bilateral talks between Zapatero and Sarkozy,” El Mundo reported on Monday.
During an operation jointly carried out by French and Spanish police on Saturday, the authorities detained the suspected military chief of ETA, Jurdan Martitegi, in southwestern France along with two other suspected members of the group.
With Spain now registering more than 17 percent unemployment, the two leaders are also expected to maximize efforts to cushion the blow from the global economic crisis on both their countries.
Spanish media meanwhile have been gearing up for a style war between Princess Letizia, the wife of Crown Prince Felipe, and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, who both regularly appear on lists of the world's best-dressed women.
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