Sánchez and Biden's 'meeting': a 30-second stroll down the NATO corridor

The Spanish president has met British Prime Minister Boris Johnson

3 min
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez briefly greets his US counterpart Joe Biden for the first time during the NATO summit in Brussels.

Brussels / MadridThere has been no meeting. The expectation that had been generated by what was supposed to be the first official meeting between the President of the United States Joe Biden and the Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez was shattered in the little more than thirty second the two presidents waked side by side after the group photo at to the NATO summit in Brussels on Monday. The meeting, in the midst of the diplomatic crisis with Morocco, was this: less than a minute of standing, with masks on and little conversation.

The brief meeting between the president of the United States, Joe Biden, and the president of the Spanish government, Pedro Sanchez

The expected meeting with Biden was precisely one of the counterarguments to the photograph of the demonstration in the Plaza de Colón this weekend and has finally been watered down to a simple handshake of tame. Sanchez does have on the agenda a meeting with the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and he did meet British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, with whom he has addressed the need for an agreement on the issue of Gibraltar after Brexit.

"Proof of the excellent relationship between the two countries".

Moncloa sources pointed out last Thursday that there were different possible topics of conversation on the table, such as "reinforcing the transatlantic relationship, multilateralism and migrations", but given the brevity of the meeting they will hardly have been able to be addressed, since the images transmitted live by NATO show a Biden who has almost not spoken at the insistence of Sánchez and in fact has turned away after a few seconds and left him alone with his companions in the corridor.

Faced with doubts from journalists about whether the meeting was really expected, Sanchez's team have lowered expectations and have indicated that at all times spoke of a "greeting" for "get to know each other personally" and "make contact". It is expected that the Spanish president will appear at a press conference in the afternoon and explain the content of the first words with Biden. But according to Moncloa, the image is "proof of the excellent relationship that exists between the two countries," although there has not been a bilateral meeting as such.

Analysts stress the importance of recovering bilateral relations with the United States after the unilateralism of Donald Trump, who only exchanged a few words with Sánchez at the last NATO summit to indicate where the Spanish president's chair was. Carlota García Encina, of the Elcano Royal Institute, recalls that "with Trump there was very little political harmony and Spain opted to let issues such as trade agreements be dealt with through Brussels, but the EU authorities do not have the same priorities, for example, when it comes to defending the black olive. The Spanish government would have to say what its priorities are and, rather than just thinking about what the Americans want, reflect on what Spain wants from the United States," he adds. The tariff war is one of the pending issues with European allies and Biden, pressured among others by the steel industry, will be cautious when it comes to liberalising trade in products that can compete with U.S. companies

The fleeting greeting of Biden and Sanchez comes at a delicate moment in relations with Morocco, after Trump recognised Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, a step that Rabat also wants Spain to do. "It is unclear whether Biden will maintain this position, because he has other more important priorities. In any case, Morocco is a strategic ally for the United States because it has a key location and because of the fight against terrorism. But Spain, which hosts the US bases at Rota and Morón, is also a strategic ally: it is not a zero-sum game," Encina points out

For Rachid El Houdaigui, professor at the Abdelmalek Essaadi University in Tangier, "for Morocco it is untenable that the Spanish government should campaign in the United States and within the EU against American recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over the Sahara". The Moroccan professor warns that Rabat needs Europe as its main partner, and its alliance with the United States and Israel is strategic. But like other countries in the region, Morocco "finds in China a more active and effective partner than Europe both in times of stability and health crisis"

Spain to host NATO summit in 2022

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez will appear this afternoon with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to make official that Spain will host the 2022 NATO summit, as already leaked last week and confirmed by the Lithuanian president himself on Tuesday to also announce that his country was offering to host the 2023 summit.