- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 24, 2004

CRAWFORD, Texas (AP) — Spain’s king brought President Bush a message of good will yesterday from Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, whose vocal opposition to the Iraq war has chilled U.S.-Spanish relations.

Mr. Zapatero, the head of the Spanish government, has written and called Mr. Bush to congratulate him on his re-election, but said he can’t get past the White House switchboard. Mr. Bush sent him a note earlier this month to thank him.

By contrast, King Juan Carlos, who holds no political power, was ferried onto Mr. Bush’s ranch aboard a Marine Corps helicopter bearing the U.S. presidential seal. The first king to visit Mr. Bush’s ranch, he was accompanied by his wife, Queen Sofia, for the 80-minute stay.

Mr. Bush drove his white pickup truck to the landing site, accompanied by his wife, Laura, and his father, former President George Bush. After a hearty handshake and posing for group pictures, Mr. Bush held the pickup’s passenger door open for his royal guest. The king rode shotgun during a tour of the 1,600-acre ranch, the wives in the back seats.

Asked what signal he intended to send by welcoming the king, Mr. Bush said, “Spain is a great country and good friend.” Rolling down the window, he shouted to reporters, “Adios — that means goodbye.”

Mr. Bush has spoken recently of building new bridges to Europe to ease the tensions over the Iraq war, and he plans an outreach tour of the Continent in February. But he has made no move to patch up the rift with Mr. Zapatero, who angered the administration by withdrawing troops from Iraq after taking office in April.

Mr. Bush recently welcomed Mr. Zapatero’s predecessor, Jose Maria Aznar, to the White House. Mr. Aznar was a chief U.S. ally in the Iraq war.

In Spain’s government, political power resides in parliament and the prime minister, not the king, who is obliged to steer a wide berth around politics and foreign affairs. Yet Juan Carlos enjoys popularity and influence among Spanish citizens, and he often acts as a goodwill ambassador.

Mr. Zapatero’s office said the king went to Crawford bearing a message from the prime minister. Officials in Spain did not reveal its contents, and White House officials declined to comment. The Spanish press said the message was meant to improve bilateral relations.

Mr. Bush’s father recently flew to Spain to meet privately with Spanish Defense Minister Jose Bono.

The senior Mr. Bush was at the ranch as part of a family Thanksgiving celebration that also would ring in the 23rd birthdays of the president’s twin daughters. Jenna and Barbara Bush were at the ranch yesterday, ahead of the festivities.

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