McCain seems confused by questions about Spain in radio interview
Nick Juliano and David Edwards
Published: Thursday September 18, 2008


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Update: Noncommittal stance toward meeting contradicts previous McCain vow to host Spanish PM

Does John McCain know where Spain is, or who leads the country?

The Republican presidential nominee's responses in a recent interview with a Spanish language radio station suggest the answer to those questions might in fact be no. Either that or the 72-year-old candidate became confused after a series of questions about Latin America, or he was simply snubbing a US ally that decided to end its involvement in the Iraq war.

During an interview with Radio Caracol Miami conducted Wednesday, McCain was asked whether he would invite Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero to the White House. McCain's noncommittal answer seemed to suggest that he did not know who Zapatero was, as he immediately pivoted to talking about Mexico then referred to his commitment to Latin America.

"I would be willing to meet with those leaders who are friends and want to work with us in a cooperative fashion," McCain said, before moving on to praise Mexican President Felipe Calderon's fight against drug cartels.

(A clip and transcript of the interview segment in question and full transcript is reproduced below.)

He was asked twice more specifically about Zapatero. After fumbling a bit, McCain returned to his talking points; the only problem was he was using talking points about the wrong continent.

"All I can tell you is I have a clear record of working with leaders in the hemisphere that are friends with us and standing up to those who are not," he said. "And that's judged on the basis of the importance of our relationship with Latin America and the entire region."

At that point, the interviewer reminded McCain that she was talking about a completely different region of the world. The candidate seemed to grow agitated and stuck to his script.
INTERVIEWER: OK, what about Europe? I'm talking about the president of Spain.

McCAIN: What about me what?

INTERVIEWER: Ok, are you willing to meet with him if you are elected president?

McCAIN: I am willing to meet with any leader who is dedicated to the same principles and philosophy that we are for human rights, democracy and freedom, and I will stand up to those who are not.
The interview was conducted entirely in English and translated for Radio Caracol's listeners. McCain could have been thrown off by the interviewer's accent, though. For example, when she asked, "What about Europe?" it sounded a bit like, "What about you?"

The Spanish press and liberal bloggers began calling attention to the gaffe beginning Wednesday night.

"In Spain, there seem to be two lines of thinking. The great majority appear to think the McCain was simply confused and didn't know who Zapatero was -- something you might bone up on if you were about to do an interview with the Spanish press," wrote Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall, who broke the story. "The assumption seems to be that since he'd already been asked about Castro and Chavez that McCain assumed Zapatero must be some other Latin American bad guy."

Time magazine was the first traditional media outlet to pick up the story, and as of mid-morning Thursday it appeared that only The Washington Post has joined them.

McCain's camp is arguing that he knew exactly whom he was talking about during the interview and was simply sticking to the Bush administration's policy toward Zapatero's government. After taking office in April 2004, Zapatero immediately pulled Spain's troops out of Iraq; he has never met with President Bush.

McCain foreign policy adviser Randy Sheunemann argued to Post that McCain's answer was intentional.
"The questioner asked several times about Senator McCain's willingness to meet Zapatero (and id'd him in the question so there is no doubt Senator McCain knew exactly to whom the question referred). Senator McCain refused to commit to a White House meeting with President Zapatero in this interview," he said in an e-mail.

Update:

If McCain did indeed mean to take such a chilly and non-committal stance on meeting the Spanish leader, he contradicted a promise made to another reporter just three months ago.

America blog's John Aravosis translated parts of a June interview McCain did with El Pais in June.

"I would like President Zapatero to visit the United States," McCain told the Spanish newspaper, according to the translation. "I am very interested, not only in normalizing relations with Spain, but in developing good and productive relations that address the many issues and challenges that we need to be addressing together."

Now, McCain's camp could quibble with the precise wording -- he never explicitly said "White House" to El Pais -- but the previous interview seems to suggest only three possible explanations. Either McCain became confused toward the end of a 10 minute radio interview, his adviser was lying about his noncommittal answer, or the GOP candidate decided to flip-flop on the fly about how he would deal with a fellow NATO member and ally in the war on terror.

The following audio is excerpted from McCain's interview with Radio Caracol Miami, broadcast on September 18, 2008.



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TRANSCRIPT

INTERVIEWER: Senator finally, let's talk about Spain. If elected president would you be willing to invite President Jose Rodriguez Louis Zapatero to the White House, to meet with you?

McCAIN: I would be willing to meet with those leaders who are friends and want to work with us in a cooperative fashion.

And by the way President Calderone of Mexico is fighting a very, very tough fight against the drug cartels. I'm glad we are now working with the Mexican government on the Merida Plan, and I intend to move forward with relations and invite as many of them as I can, of those leaders to the White House.

INTERVIEWER: Would that invitation be extended to the Zapatero government? To the president himself?

McCAIN: Uh, I don't, I, ya know, I, honestly, I have to look at the situations and the relations and the priorities. But I can assure you, I will establish closer relations with our friends and I will stand up to those who want to do harm to the United States of America.

INTERVIEWER: So you have to wait and see. If he's willing to meet with you, would you be able to do it? In the White House?

McCAIN: Well, again, I don't -- All I can tell you is I have a clear record of working with leaders in the hemisphere that are friends with us and standing up to those who are not. And that's judged on the basis of the importance of our relationship with Latin America and the entire region.

INTERVIEWER: OK, what about Europe? I'm talking about the president of Spain.

McCAIN: What about me what?

INTERVIEWER: OK. Are you willing to meet with him if you are elected president?

McCAIN: I am willing to meet with any leader who is dedicated to the same principles and philosophy that we are for human rights, democracy and freedom, and I will stand up to those who are not.


 
 


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