- The Washington Times - Friday, June 1, 2007

BERLIN — The United States and Spain clashed yesterday over how to bring democracy to Cuba, with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice advocating regime change and Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos insisting that engagement with the communist government would produce better results.

Just before the two top diplomats met in Madrid, Havana held rare talks on human rights with a Spanish delegation it reportedly took to Cuban prisons.

But Miss Rice questioned the effectiveness of such visits to the island nation, criticizing Spain as cozying up to Fidel Castro’s regime.

“I have real doubts about the value of engagement with a regime that is anti-democratic and that appears to me to be trying to arrange a transition from one anti-democratic regime to the next anti-democratic regime,” she said at a press conference with Mr. Moratinos.

“What is needed in Cuba is structural change. … There has to be a transition to a democratically elected government,” she said. “Spain has a different view of how to get to a democratic Cuba.”

Mr. Moratinos countered that engaging the Castro regime is much more effective than isolating it. He said the Spanish Embassy in Havana has regular contact with political dissidents and has helped free some from detention.

“I’m sure that after some time goes by, [Miss Rice] will probably be more convinced that the Spanish approach can have its results,” he said.

But the secretary silently mouthed what appeared to be the phrase, “don’t hold your breath.”

Miss Rice stopped in Madrid for several hours at the end of a trip to Germany and Austria. It marked her first visit there as secretary of state, and was an effort to mend fences since the decision by Spain’s current Socialist government to withdraw its troops from Iraq in 2004 after a public disagreement with the Bush administration’s policy.

But in addition to Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, she met with the head of Spain’s conservative opposition — a rare move by Washington’s chief diplomat. Meetings with the opposition are more common in countries with an authoritarian government.

Miss Rice is the most senior U.S. official to visit Spain in three years, since her predecessor, Colin L. Powell, attended Mr. Zapatero’s swearing-in ceremony.

“There is no secret that we have had differences with Spain on a number of issues, but we have also had very good cooperation with Spain on a number of issues,” Miss Rice said.

Mr. Zapatero is one of the few European leaders not to have been invited to the White House. He openly supported the Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. John F. Kerry, in the 2004 presidential election.

The previous conservative Cabinet of Prime Minister JoseMaria Aznar, which initially sent the Spanish troops to Iraq, was an ally of the Bush administration. Mr. Aznar lost the last election to Mr. Zapatero after the March 11, 2004, terrorist attack in Madrid.

In Havana, a top Cuban official said yesterday he hopes the United States will experience “regime change” and stop interfering in the affairs of governments around the globe.

In an interview with CNN yesterday, National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon was asked to react to comments by Miss Rice, that “there must be a democratic transition in Cuba.”

Mr. Alarcon responded that he hopes “there will be a regime change in your country.”

Miss Rice’s disagreement with Mr. Moratinos followed her spats earlier in the week with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov over U.S. plans for a missile-defense system in Eastern Europe, and with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier over climate change.

All ministers attended a meeting of the Group of Eight leading industrialized countries in Germany, which is G-8 chairman this year, ahead of the annual summit of heads of state next week.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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