President Barack Obama on Tuesday said the United States is “deeply committed” to maintaining a relationship with a “strong and united” Spain after welcoming King Felipe VI to the White House, and he added that he hopes to travel to the Iberian nation before the end of his term.
Obama and the king delivered remarks to reporters at the close of their 45-minute meeting in the Oval Office, although the pair did not specifically mention the push by Catalonia for greater sovereignty.
The president, who in response to the monarch’s invitation to visit Spain, said that he “hopes” to be able to travel to that country before his term ends in January 2017, went on to emphasize the “outstanding … friendship” between the two countries and peoples, as well as Spain’s ongoing economic recovery from its “brutal recession,” although he said that more work remains to be done on that score.
After the president’s remarks, Felipe spoke in English, saying that he had emphasized to Obama at their meeting that both countries need each other to contribute to solving problems and recognizing the nations’ “shared efforts in the international community and to address all those global issues that are pressing so strongly.”
Felipe thanked Obama for the opportunity to come and visit the United States, reiterating that the two countries share key values such as “greater liberty, of unity, of democracy, and, obviously, also human rights and respect for diversity.”
Obama and the Spanish monarch also spoke, among other things, about the current European refugee crisis and about cooperation on defense and anti-terrorism matters.
Regarding the recent arrival of hundreds of thousands of refugees in Europe, Obama noted that “Spain has worked hard to deal with this issue in the past with North African migrants that oftentimes are engaged in very dangerous travels, and human trafficking that takes place.”
The president also said that this crisis will require cooperation among Europe, the United States and the entire international community.
Obama also expressed to Felipe his “appreciation” for bilateral cooperation in defense matters and working together to train Afghan security forces and “pushing back against ISIL and other extremists in the Middle East … and the peacekeeping efforts that Spain engages in in places like Lebanon.”
He also emphasized the king’s “outstanding example” of leadership in his first year on the throne, and in the name of the American people congratulated Queen Letizia, who celebrates her 43rd birthday on Tuesday.
While Obama and Felipe were meeting in the Oval Office, first lady Michelle Obama hosted Queen Letizia for tea and gave her a tour of the organic vegetable and fruit garden she installed on the White House grounds as part of her efforts to promote healthy eating.
Although Felipe studied for two years at Georgetown University and speaks English well, this is the first official visit by the monarchs to the White House, and they will also visit Miami and St. Augustine, Florida, during their U.S. stay.
The king held an initial meeting with Obama on Sept. 23, 2014, in New York, three months after ascending to the throne, on the occasion of his participation in the U.N. General Assembly.
Earlier on Tuesday, Felipe and Letizia paid homage to George Washington on a visit to Mount Vernon, where they received a guided tour of the first president’s estate.
The royal couple are due to visit the Capitol later Tuesday for a meeting with members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. EFE