White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Tuesday the Trump administration would welcome dialogue between Spain and Catalonia’s leaders on the region’s political future.
“That’s up for the people of Spain and Catalonia to decide,” Sanders said at the daily White House press briefing, shortly after Catalonia’s secessionist president Carles Puigdemont said he would seek dialogue and international mediation rather than an immediate declaration of independence.
The region, which has its own language and complains of a net loss of tax money, held an Oct. 1 independence referendum that was violently suppressed by the central government. Spanish leaders argue secession is illegal under the country’s 1978 constitution.
A court suspended the independence vote, but the regional government held an election anyhow and says more than 90 percent of voters favored secession, though turnout was under 50 percent as Spanish police dragged away residents, fired rubber bullets and seized ballots.
Ahead of the vote, President Trump said last month as he hosted Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy at the White House that he favored a unified Spain, and that he believed most residents of Catalonia would as well if accurate numbers were available.
Sanders said Tuesday “our position hasn’t changed, but we would certainly welcome the president of Spain and conversations between us and them going forward.”
Andrew Davis, the head of the government of Catalonia’s delegation to the U.S. since 2008, told the Washington Examiner on Monday he’s pleased with the U.S. approach, which is notably restrained compared to the outright opposition expressed toward Iraqi Kurdistan’s late September independence referendum.
“In terms of what the president said, I think more was made of his statement than need be,” Davis said. “We haven’t detected much of a change in the U.S. position from Obama to Trump. Both of their State Departments have referred to it as an internal matter for Spain and Catalonians and both have expressed a preference for the status quo. … They were under tremendous pressure to go much farther with more specific statements against this process, but that didn’t happen.”