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Tuesday, 12 June, 2001, 23:12 GMT 00:12 UK
Bush and Aznar agree to disagree
President George Bush and Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar
Bush and Aznar's relationship looks set to continue
By Flora Botsford in Madrid

Despite the inevitable protests outside the American embassy, the visit to Spain went smoothly for President George W Bush.

He could have expected some tough questioning on areas of concern for European governments, such as his refusal to ratify the Kyoto protocol on global warming, his proposed missile defence shield project, or capital punishment.

We share a common history and a common language, which in just a few years will surpass the use of English in the United States

Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar
These will come, when he travels to Nato headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday and later this week attends the EU summit in Gothenburg.

For now, the Spanish Prime Minister, Jose Maria Aznar, was content to give him a warm welcome. Mr Bush's choice of Spain as the first stop in his first European tour, and his first trip across the Atlantic since coming to office, was something of a coup for the Spanish government.

"We share a common history and a common language, which in just a few years will surpass the use of English in the United States," Mr Aznar said.

Diplomatic language

President Bush was happy to oblige, peppering his responses with the odd word or phrase in "the language of Cervantes", which despite his strong accent and the occasional grammatical error, clearly delighted the assembled Spanish journalists.

"Es un enorme placer estar en Espana - it is a great pleasure to be in Spain," President Bush said, by way of an opening.

The two leaders were closest on Latin America, in which both are big investors - the two biggest in the world.

They also agreed on the potential for Nato and EU enlargement, the importance of military co-operation, and of taking a strong stand against terrorism.

Differing opinions

They differed over the environment, Cuba, and the death penalty, but Mr Bush said there were "many more areas of agreement than disagreement, so much more unites than divides us". This appeared to satisfy Mr Aznar.

Anti-Bush protester
Bush faced protests in Spain

The Spanish leader looked as if he was enjoying a private joke when an American journalist pressed Mr Bush on the scientific feasibility of the so-called Son of Star Wars project, but the warm relationship looks set to continue.

Mr Aznar has agreed to visit the US before Spain takes over the EU presidency in 2002, and both leaders expressed their confidence that a new defence accord would be signed before the end of this year.

Strategically important

The US sees Spain as an important strategic partner within Nato and the first stop for its planes crossing the Atlantic.

There are two US military bases on Spanish soil, one of which is about to undergo major expansion plans.

Analysts say that behind today's talks was a secret agenda - seeking a contract worth $17.5m, Spain is hoping President Bush will select the port of Cadiz as the main repair centre for the US sixth fleet.

There are potential problems for the scheme, however, with Spain being a nuclear-free country under its Nato agreement.

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See also:

12 Jun 01 | Europe
In pictures: Bush in Spain
12 Jun 01 | Europe
Bush pledges to heal rifts
08 Jun 01 | Europe
Bush's European timetable
24 Mar 01 | Europe
EU presses Bush on global warming
11 Jun 01 | Sci/Tech
Bush and EU seek climate concord
30 Mar 01 | Americas
Kyoto: Why did the US pull out?
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