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courage is contagious

Viewing cable 09MADRID71, SPAIN: DEPARTING AMBASSADOR'S INSIGHTS ON ENGAGING

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09MADRID71 2009-01-21 17:05 2010-12-07 12:12 SECRET Embassy Madrid
VZCZCXRO1700
RR RUEHLA
DE RUEHMD #0071/01 0211713
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
R 211713Z JAN 09
FM AMEMBASSY MADRID
TO RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHDC
RHEHAAA/WHITE HOUSE WASHDC
RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0092
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUEILB/NCTC WASHINGTON DC
RUEAHLC/HOMELAND SECURITY CENTER WASHINGTON DC
RUCNFB/FBI WASHDC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
INFO RUEHLA/AMCONSUL BARCELONA 3749
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 0472
RUEHUNV/USMISSION UNVIE VIENNA 0105
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 06 MADRID 000071

SIPDIS

PASS TO ELAINE SAMSON AND STACIE ZERDECKI AT EUR/WE,
JANICE BELL AT INR
TOBY BRADLEY AT NSC

E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/20/2034
TAGS: OVIP PINS PREL PTER OFDP SP PGOV
SUBJECT: SPAIN: DEPARTING AMBASSADOR'S INSIGHTS ON ENGAGING
GOS LEADERSHIP

REF: A. 08 MADRID 1359
B. 08 MADRID 518

Classified By: Charge d'Affaires Arnold A. Chacon for reasons 1.4 (b) a
nd (d)

1. (C) SUMMARY: Ambassador Aguirre conducted a series of
farewell calls on key GOS officials in the weeks before
departing Post on January 20. Those meetings contributed to
the information in this cable, which offers the Ambassador's
final thoughts on how the Obama Administration might best
engage key personalities within the Zapatero Administration.
END SUMMARY.

2. (C) COMMENT: The GOS is clearly eager to ramp up its
engagement with the Obama Administration and plans to
immediately implement a diplomatic full court press to
"normalize" bilateral ties, after years of Madrid perceiving
itself to be on the outs with Washington. There is currently
a wave of goodwill in Spain for President Obama and his
administration. Zapatero, who feels a spiritual kinship with
President Obama and identifies with him in a personal way,
has publicly pledged that "Obama will have in Spain and its
government a faithful ally and friend." Meanwhile, Foreign
Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos has publicly voiced the GOS's
expectation that bilateral relations will enter "a phase of
greater harmony" in which ties are "more intimate, more
intense, and more fluid." Senior Spanish officials publicly
have expressed hope that Zapatero and Obama will have a
formal meeting in 2009, preferably at the White House.
Spanish officials also have informed the media that Vice
President Biden told Zapatero in a November 17 phone
conversation that he would visit Spain shortly after taking
office to discuss the global financial crisis. Zapatero
recently announced his interest in phoning the President soon
for an in-depth conversation to discuss conflict areas and
Latin America - including Cuba - and on other occasions has
signaled his interest in cooperation on global issues such as
combating terrorism, poverty and climate change. Managing
GOS expectations on the timetable and the extent of bilateral
cooperation will be key to maintaining their current
enthusiasm for collaborating on projects of mutual interest.
END COMMENT.

//King Juan Carlos de Borbon//

3. (S) The Ambassador urges the new Administration to engage
with King Juan Carlos I, the Spanish Head of State. Juan
Carlos is well-disposed to the U.S. but he will always act in
what he perceives to be the best interests of Spain. Where
U.S. and Spanish interests coincide, he can be a formidable
ally. In meetings, the King will try to charm interlocutors
and will bring down the level of formality and protocol to
make them feel comfortable, thereby seek to guide the
relationship. It is best to stay at the King's level of
banter and not be cowed by his aura. If you push back with
joviality at any verbal jousting, you will win his respect.

4. (S) The King has a respectful relationship with Zapatero
and they communicate well. Zapatero consults and informs the
King on issues from time to time and the King has no
reluctance to offer his thoughts - but not his advice - on
issues. The King is selective when he wants the GOS to do
something, discreetly passing the word through Zapatero or
his Cabinet. The King does have influence with Zapatero when
he wants to use it.

5. (S) For example, the Ambassador is convinced that the King
was the guiding force - over the objections of Foreign
Minister Moratinos - in the GOS naming Jorge Dezcallar to be
the current Ambassador to the United States. The Ambassador
believes this in part because the King identified Dezcallar
to the Ambassador as the next Spanish envoy to Washington six
months before the decision was announced by the GOS. The
Ambassador believes that Juan Carlos chose Dezcallar because
he believes Dezcallar will do the best job for Spain in that

MADRID 00000071 002 OF 006


position. Of course, it also helps that Juan Carlos likes
Dezcallar and that Dezcallar has some personal allegiance to
the King.

6. (U) Juan Carlos will visit Florida (Pensacola during
February 18-19 and Miami on February 19) as part of
celebrations to mark the 450th anniversary of the first
Spanish expedition to set foot in what is today the United
States. According to Spanish press reports, Spanish
diplomatic sources suggest he may meet Obama Administration
officials during his visit.

//President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero//

7. (S) Zapatero is a wily politician with an uncanny ability
- like a cat in a jungle - to sense opportunity or danger.
It is dangerous to underestimate him, as many former rivals
have found out too late. In making decisions and formulating
policy, he plays to his domestic audience, especially voters
outside the Madrid region, which he looks down upon for a
kind of "inside the Beltway" insularity that he perceives as
detached from the concerns and views of most Spaniards. He
is playing to the peanut gallery rather than to the front
row. Zapatero, who is heading his second minority
government, is constantly fighting for the support of the 1-2
million swing voters and traditional non-voters. In the
Ambassador's judgment, there are no issues that Zapatero
would fall on his sword over; all options are always on the
table in order to achieve his immediate political goals.

8. (C) Zapatero has faced a steep learning curve on foreign
policy issues, but has developed a broad strategic vision
that recognizes the inter-relationships and cause and effect
consequences of his government's actions. Nowadays he is
well informed on any topic. Zapatero has the capacity to
learn, absorb, and connect the dots. He is bright and
continually gets the better of detractors who underestimate
him.

9. (S) Zapatero is not a "conviction" politician but
undoubtedly understands the Spanish people and will support
whatever policy appeals to them, regardless of U.S.
interests. However, Zapatero also has shown that if there is
an issue of particular importance to the USG, he can be
amenable to working with us despite internal opposition. For
example, at one point the Ambassador informed Zapatero that
U.S. CEO's might decide to stop bidding in Spain due to a
growing perception that the GOS was not welcoming US bidders
on procurement contracts. Zapatero had told the Ambassador
to let him know if there was something important to the USG
and he would take care of it. Later - when the USG had
agreed to advocate on behalf of GE in a bid against Rolls
Royce for a Spanish MOD contract to provide helicopter motors
- GE informed the Ambassador that failure to win the contract
would cause that branch of GE to cease operations in Spain,
which the Ambassador duly informed Zapatero's economic
adviser. Although there was considerable all-source evidence
to suggest that the MOD decided to award the contract to
Rolls Royce, Moncloa - the office of the President -
overturned the decision and it was announced that GE had won
the bid. The Ambassador is convinced that Zapatero
personally intervened in the case in favor of GE.

10. (C) Zapatero is not innately ill-disposed to the USG.
For him, foreign policy is subordinate to domestic political
interests and the U.S. relationship is just one more element
to be viewed according to the circumstances of the moment.
There is currently a wave of goodwill for President Obama in
Spain, which is the answer to Zapatero's prayers in that it
enables him to engage the USG without being dinged by the
traditional anti-U.S. sentiment among his political base.

11. (S) The best way to interact with Zapatero in meetings is
to be pleasant and relaxed and be ready for some initial
banter. The Ambassador advises to ask him open-ended
questions and allow him to talk about what's on his mind.

MADRID 00000071 003 OF 006


Zapatero will be well prepared on substance. Zapatero
welcomes dialogue and an exchange of ideas. He does not
respond well to being lectured and will end the conversation
if he perceives that is what is occurring. Similarly, do not
corner him politically or ambush him publicly. Give him room
and he will listen to your ideas. If there are political
differences, they would be best discussed behind closed
doors. It is best to have open lines of communications with
Zapatero's team, which has access to him at all times. The
USG needs to maintain and further cultivate access to the
people who have access to Zapatero, the most well-connected
of which are listed below.

//GOS Officials with Access to Zapatero//

I) Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega, the First Vice
President and Minister of the Presidency

12. (S) Fernandez de la Vega is a key player with access to
Zapatero. She is his able lieutenant and the executor of his
policies. Fernandez de la Vega has an icy personality and
brings a sterile, surgical approach to her work. There are
rumors that Fernandez de la Vega may be removed during an
impending Cabinet shuffle by Zapatero. The Ambassador
believes that Zapatero has no personal allegiance to her
beyond being a strong member of his team. She delivers and
is effective at what she does, but the moment she ceases to
be useful to him, he will let her go at the first politically
convenient moment. The Ambassador does not believe she
aspires to higher office and suggests she knows this post
will be the peak of her career. She is not especially a
friend of the USG, but is a pragmatist and interacts with the
USG as needed. U.S. interlocutors would be well advised to
use a firm backbone when dealing with Fernandez de la Vega,
which the Ambassador suggests will help develop mutual
respect.

II) Bernardino Leon, Secretary General of the Office of the
President

13. (S) Leon is a smart and impressive interlocutor who is
well-connected to and has the ear of Zapatero (As highlighted
in REFTEL A). He is the golden boy of the GOS and his
influence is on the rise. The Ambassador opines that Leon's
career will take him far beyond where he is now and envisions
that he could easily become Foreign Minister one day. At
present, Leon is more important to Zapatero than Foreign
Minister Moratinos or any other single cabinet minister
because the breadth of his duties transcends any individual
ministry and has virtually no parameters. Although his
expertise is in foreign policy, Leon is currently Zapatero's
go-to guy on both international and domestic issues (for
example, he is even involved in budget negotiations between
Spain's central government and the regional governments).
Leon commands an impressive capability to digest incredible
quantities of information on a range of topics, connect the
dots and present them in a insightful, cogent and persuasive
fashion. The Ambassador likened Leon's talent to a human
version of Google. Leon also has an aptitude for creative
problem-solving, such as his efforts in 2005 - as Deputy
Foreign Minister - to ensure that a scheduled speech by
Venezuela's Hugo Chavez in Salamanca, Spain did not upstage a
cross-town meeting of the Summit of the Americas. Leon has
been displeased with recent press reports touting his growing
influence with Zapatero at the expense of Fernandez de la
Vega or Moratinos. The Ambassador suggests Leon's ego is fed
by what he accomplishes rather than by what people tell him
or write about him. Leon has a passion for his work and
interlocutors will find him very well informed on Latin
America, Africa, the Middle East, and Russia.

14. (C) The Ambassador cites Zapatero's recruitment of Leon
to the Office of the Presidency as the result of a rare
instance in which foreign policy unfavorably impacted
Zapatero domestically. Zapatero decided to shuffle his
foreign policy advisers when the blowback from unflattering

MADRID 00000071 004 OF 006


media coverage of Zapatero at the NATO Summit in Bucharest
impacted his standing at home. (See REFTEL B).

III) Milagros Hernando, President of the International
Department of the Office of the President

15. (C) Known as Mila, career diplomat Hernando acts as chief
of staff to Leon, to whom she owes her job. Her geographic
expertise is Europe - Leon's weakest area - which makes them
a Yin & Yang team that complement each other. Their
relationship is based on mutual trust. There is no daylight
between them on policy issues. Hernando's role is for Leon's
aggrandizement; she will protect him and will not take credit
behind his back. With Leon as busy as he is, Hernando is
more accessible to USG interlocutors.

IV) Gen. Felix Sanz, High Representative for the Spanish
Presidency of the EU on Defense Issues

16. (C) On defense issues, Sanz, the Chief of the Defense
Staff (CHOD) during 2004-08, might prove an alternate channel
to Zapatero. Sanz has very positive views of the United
States, despite knowing that in 2008 the USG did not vote for
him to be the next Chairman of the Military Committee at
NATO. He is not bitter about the incident, but knows he owes
the USG no favors for it.

//Zapatero's Inner Circle//

17. (S) Zapatero keeps his own counsel and rarely asks for
his subordinates' input on key issues. As his confidence has
grown while he has been in office, he is doing so less
frequently and will do so only with a select inner circle of
three additional advisers besides Leon. The Ambassador
suggests that Zapatero's thinking is that he does not need
the advice of others and/or they are not useful to his
decision-making process, so he does not reach out for their
views.

I) Jose "Pepe" Blanco, Vice Secretary General in Zapatero,s
Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE)

18. (S) Zapatero consults Blanco, the #2 official in the
PSOE, on political issues. The Ambassador describes Blanco
as a very important element in the equation for maintaining
strong bilateral relations. Contact with him must be
maintained to continue providing messages to Zapatero.
However, Blanco leaves a bad taste in the mouth of some past
U.S. interlocutors, whom he strikes as particularly
untrustworthy. Blanco has an unfailing idiosyncrasy of never
looking interlocutors in the eye when he shakes hands.
Furthermore, he has a reputation for being especially
ruthless on political issues, which he appears to relish.

19. (U) Blanco and Jesus Caldera, the PSOE's Secretary for
Ideas and Projects, will travel to Washington, DC in
mid-February to attend a conference on the "historical
change" in the United States that the new President
represents.
II) Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, Minister of Interior

20. (S) Zapatero also consults Rubalcaba, who tops the
Ambassador's list of the most impressive GOS officials. The
Ambassador suggested that Rubalcaba sees himself as the
smartest person in Cabinet but conveys no hubris. Rubalcaba
is smart enough to know that he needs the USG on
counter-terrorism (CT) issues and therefore he has been
cooperative with U.S. interlocutors on that topic. Rubalcaba
excels out putting out fires, but also fully understands the
extent of the lack of inter-agency cooperation in his
Ministry between the Spanish National Police and the Civil
Guard. The Ambassador suggests Zapatero is consulting with
Rubalcaba for ideas on who should succeed intelligence
director Alberto Saiz, whose five-year mandate expires in
April, but the Ambassador also places the odds at better than
even that Zapatero renews Saiz's mandate since it is the path

MADRID 00000071 005 OF 006


of least resistance.

21. (S) Rubalcaba is feeling the weight of power and is
looking for an opportunity to leave his Ministry and possibly
the GOS, suggests the Ambassador. Rubalcaba - whose wife
reportedly wants him to step down - takes the deaths of
Spaniards to heart, whether at the hands of ETA terrorists,
traffic deaths on the highways or criminal violence. It is
starting to wear on him, and he has suggested he is no longer
at his peak performance. He told the Ambassador he intended
to step down in early 2008 at the end of the first Zapatero
government, but he miscalculated and informed Zapatero too
late in the latter's planning process. Rubalcaba is
extremely loyal to Zapatero, who understands that he needs
Rubalcaba and will make it difficult for him to step down.
The Ambassador recommends that Rubalcaba - who is very
accessible to the Embassy despite his busy schedule - remains
a contact that the USG cultivates, whether he remains in his
current post or not. He will continue to be an important
player in Spanish politics in either case.

III) Jose Antonio Alonso, PSOE Spokesman in the Congress of
Deputies

22. (C) According to the Ambassador, Zapatero also consults
Alonso, a judge and childhood friend whom Zapatero recruited
to be his Minister of Interior (2004-6) and later his
Minister of Defense (2006-08) in his first government, before
asking him to assume his current post. The two are close and
Alonso is keenly loyal to Zapatero.

//Three Other Key GOS Personalities in the Bilateral
Relationship//

23. (S) Foreign Minister Moratinos is not the most impressive
member of cabinet, but he is an honest broker who should be
taken seriously. He is well meaning albeit egotistical,
according to the Ambassador. The Foreign Minister belongs to
a second, outer ring of Zapatero advisers. His allegiance is
to Spain - rather than to Zapatero or even to his own career
advancement - and he is idealistically motivated to "do the
right thing." The Ambassador discounts speculation, which
has existed since before the Ambassador arrived, that
Zapatero will shuffle Moratinos out of his current post any
time soon. The Ambassador believes that Moratinos suits the
bill well enough for Zapatero's purposes. The Ambassador
knows of no ill-will or jealousy on the part of Moratinos for
Leon's growing influence with Zapatero.

24. (S) In meetings, Moratinos often tries to overpower or
bully his interlocutors in an attempt to establish a superior
negotiating position. It is fairly well known in Madrid
among the Ambassadorial corps that Moratinos is given to
screaming at foreign Ambassadors and chastising them at the
first opportunity to put them in their place. It is a tactic
that has caused many Ambassadors to leave with their tail
between their legs. The Ambassador recommends that his
successor and other senior-level USG interlocutors stand
their ground against Moratinos and force him to deal with
them on an even level. Once this happens, the relationship
will likely prove far more harmonious. Meanwhile, Moratinos
had a very healthy professional admiration for former
Secretary of State Rice, whose attention he craved and whose
approval he sought.

25. (S) Carme Chacon is smart and has gained enough respect
to be effective as Defense Minister. She has also been a
real asset to Zapatero in the way she has handled the
portfolio in the public eye. However, she is immature in a
political sense, according to the Ambassador. She is too
focused on the little things - such as the lack of parity in
the bilateral defense relationship or by implying that she
needs to be treated with more deference - and is not focused
on larger issues like weapons systems. She does not have a
huge ego, but she is wearing the Spanish ego. The Ambassador
says the USG will not be able to change her, so it will need

MADRID 00000071 006 OF 006


to adapt and work with her. She is still developing her
political senses and will be an important player in Spanish
politics for years to come. The Ambassador predicted that
she will grow in her job and recommends future U.S.
interlocutors treat her with an eye to the future. The
Ambassador also remarked that Chacon is finding that all of
the media attention she has received since she became Defense
Minister can be a double-edged sword. Early favorable
coverage (when she inspected the troops while pregnant) has
lately given way to more negative, if irrelevant reports (as
when she wore a controversial smoking jacket to a military
parade).

26. (C) Finally, the Ambassador identified his Spanish
counterpart in Washington, Ambassador Jorge Dezcallar (also
discussed in Paragraph 5 above) as an important contact for
the new Administration to cultivate in the bilateral
relationship, predicting that Dezcallar will be a linchpin in
the bilateral relationship in the year ahead. The Ambassador
also suggests that Dezcallar would likely respond well to
increased social interaction with USG officials.
CHACON