Gonzalez's message to Reagan: Spain's Socialists are not 'ogres'
Spain's charismatic prime minister, Felipe Gonzalez, will be dishing out the best of his Mediterranean charm this week. During his first official visit to Washington, he will try to convince the Reagan administration that Americans, especially American businessmen, have nothing to fear from Spain's young, but moderate Socialist government.
''The main purpose of the trip is to demonstrate that Felipe Gonzalez and his government aren't ogres,'' said Fernando Schwartz, the Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman. With landslide municipal election victories now behind him, Mr. Gonzalez - more popular than ever in Spain - has turned his attention to international affairs, where Spain may play a new role, and to Spain's foreign image.
The trip to the United States is coming on the heels of an eight-day tour of five Latin American countries (Dominican Republic, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, and Mexico), where he criticized the ''negative influence'' of US foreign policy in the area. The Washington trip is considered a ''coming of age'' in foreign relations for the seven-month-old government that can boast of one of the largest parliamentary majorities in Western Europe.
The young premier with choir-boy looks will also go on to New York in his three-day US trip where he is expected to meet with leading American businessmen and bankers.
Along with Finance Minister Miguel Boyer who will join him in New York, Mr. Gonzalez hopes to convince businessmen of the advantages of investing in socialist, but now-stable Spain where no further nationalizations are in store. In February, the government expropriated Spain's largest private holding, Rumasa , which was on the verge of collapse. It later also took over the utilities electric grid system.
Although the political agenda is open to any issue, Mr. Gonzalez is expected to clarify Spain's position on NATO membership. Almost immediately after taking office, the Socialist government froze Spain's membership in the alliance with no participation in the military command. This initially caused Washington some alarm, which gradually dissipated with almost tiresome assurances that Spain would not cause East-West tensions by an immediate withdrawal. No date was ever set for a popular referendum.
Now most foreign-affairs officials privately admit that an eventual referendum may be linked in some way to European Community membership or to genuine progress on the thorny contention with Great Britain for Gibraltar.
A top West German NATO official said recently it was unreasonable for Europe to demand Spanish soldiers if the Spaniards aren't allowed to sell Europe their oranges. Gonzalez may ask Reagan to lobby with Europe for speeding up EC negotiations.
Meanwhile, a special foreign-affairs commission is studying different options for Spain's contribution to Western defense, a concept still a little vague in Spain which has been neutral during the last two world wars.
Popular opinion in poll after poll is consistently against membership in the alliance.