WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 22, 2012, 6:00 P.M. EST
THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.
MODERATOR: Good evening, everyone. Thank you for joining us at the Foreign Press Center this evening. My name is Belinda Jackson Farrier and I’ll serve as your moderator tonight. This evening, we have with us Ambassador Solomont from – who’s our U.S. ambassador to Spain. He’ll be speaking on a number of issues: global issues, economic cooperation, and cultural ties between Spain and the U.S.
Tonight, we also have colleagues who are joining us in New York. And so I’ll ask that when we do reach our question and answer period, that if you please state your name, and also your media organization, and then your question that would be very helpful for us as well, and the same goes for our colleagues in New York. When you have a question, please feel free to go to the podium and we’ll call on you once we see you. We’ll begin this evening with some brief remarks by the ambassador and then we’ll go into questions. Thank you.
AMBASSADOR SOLOMONT: Well, first of all, I want to thank all of you for joining us this afternoon. Buenas tardes. I’ve had the pleasure of spending a fair amount of time with your colleagues in Madrid and – actually all over Spain – but I’ve really welcomed the opportunity to meet with all of you who actually are the primary source of information about the United States to the audiences in Spain that I’m trying to reach, so this is probably long-overdue. I apologize for – good evening – for not doing this earlier but I hope that I’ve had a very open and, I think, positive working relationship with the press corps in Spain and I’d like to continue that with all of you. So, as a follow-up to this, I hope you wouldn’t hesitate to contact me at the Embassy if you feel the need or would like to. And perhaps on other visits that I make to the States, we can do this again.
I did want to make some brief comments. One of the main reasons I’m in Washington this week was to attend Secretary Clinton’s Global Business Conference. And as you may know, the Secretary has made a significant effort to elevate the practice of what she calls economic statecraft as part of the work that diplomats – American diplomats who are around the world. It’s based on the notion that in today’s world, the influence of a nation is measured more by the size of its economy than by its size of its army, as may have been the case in years past. Nobody’s particularly concerned with the size of Brazil’s army – I don’t know if Brazil has an army, but we all recognize that Brazil has a very important role to play in the world by virtue of, among other things, its economic strength. And the fact of the matter is that the strength and health of the American economy depends upon the health of the world’s economy. And I think it’s fair to say that the health of the world’s economy depends on health of the American economy. And we are, at Embassy Madrid, are particularly concerned about Spain’s economy and seeing Spain get through this difficult period and restoring its own economic health, and we can get into the details of that.
What the Secretary is doing this week is, yesterday and today, is gathering – especially American companies – business representatives of American businesses that are doing business overseas as well as business support organizations like American Chamber of Commerce in countries around the world to talk in Washington about how business – the American business community can work more closely with American diplomats and with American embassies to support the economic recovery here at home in the United States. And this is something that has been a priority for our Embassy for some time, and I was quite proud of the fact that Embassy Madrid was one of only two embassies that were invited to send their ambassadors to participate in this Global Business Conference. So I was invited specifically to participate in a forum on best practices of working embassy and business community. So I, along with the head of Spain’s American Chamber AmCham Jaime Malet (ph), as well as the – our ambassador in South Africa and head of AmCham in South Africa, were invited to participate in a panel discussion about best practices in terms of practicing economic statecraft.
And – so that was what brought me to Washington, and I’d welcome the opportunity to talk a little bit about some of the things we’re doing to practice economic statecraft and to contribute to economic recovery here in the United States. But the good thing about this is that what we do on behalf of the U.S. economy in Spain is invariably helpful to the Spanish economy. And so this is one are in particular in diplomacy that is a win-win. Although I have to say in terms of the relations between our countries right now, most of the things that we do are win-win.
So let me just say secondly – make the point that Spain is a very strong partner, an important partner of the United States, in our shared global agenda. And I’ve been in Spain now for over two years, and on all of the challenges – global challenges that face the United States, they are the same challenges that face Spain. And on almost every issue, we are working from a position of shared values and common interests with respect to Afghanistan, with respect to Iran, the situation in Syria, our joint participation in NATO, across the whole range of issues that today face the world. And I often would say that there are no longer national problems. All the problems that our country faces today are global problems, and that’s, I think, the case for Spain. Trans-national terrorism, international crime, global warming, the economic crisis itself, you name it, these are all things that no country can face on its own and on all of these major issues, we work really very closely with Spain. We have, frankly, with the previous government, but we look forward to that relationship continuing and even strengthening with the new government.
And I guess that’s third point I’d like to hit on, which is that I think it’s fair to say that first of all, that the new government’s been elected with an unprecedented mandate. The authority or the power that it’s going to be able to exercise by virtue of its majority in the congress, by virtue of its control of 13 out of the 17 regional governments. And if you look at the polls, then there’s at least some likelihood that there’ll be 14 as well. So – and I think the estimate is that this government controls maybe 75 percent of all public expenditures. So it’s certainly has a strong mandate to tackle what are very serious challenges.
I have spent the last several weeks meeting with all of the leaders of this government – most of the ministers and with President Rajoy. And I have to say that I’m impressed with the seriousness and the experience of the team and the depth of the team and the expertise that they bring in each of their various portfolios. The message that I’ve received from the government consistently is that we want to strengthen our relationship with the United States, we want to be a strong partner, and we want to work together in multilateral foras such as the G-20. There was just briefly a foreign ministers’ meeting in Los Cabos, attended by both Foreign Minister Margallo and Secretary of State Clinton. In – President Rajoy will be meeting President Obama for the first time at the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul. We’ll see him again at the G-20 in Los Cabos, and then again at the NATO summit in Chicago. And all of these multilateral flora, I think that the United States looks forward to a close working relationship with this – with the Spanish Government. And also on a bilateral basis, we look forward to continuing our strong partnership. And that is a partnership both in terms of a global agenda and also in terms of finding ways to help both of our economies recover and restore growth, put people back to work, and restore prosperity for our people in both countries.
So with those initial remarks, I guess now I’ll see what’s on your mind. And I don’t care how we do this; you can just ask questions.
QUESTION: Yesterday, President Obama support reforms in Spain. He said that the reforms in Italy and in Spain are positive step or something. Could you elaborate about that, what the president means? What kind of reforms do you really support, sir?
AMBASSADOR SOLOMONT: Well, first of all, he said it. He put a call in to Chancellor Merkel to congratulate her on the decisions that were made and that the agreements that were reached relative to situation in Greece, knowing that that’s been a difficulty and that the health of the Eurozone was dependent on trying to nurse the Greek economy back to some type of health. But he also noted that some of the other countries, including Italy and Spain, have begun to implement reforms that are likely to restore their financial health.
And I think we all know that the three big areas that this government has tackled have been deficit reduction, and financial reform of the banking sector, and labor reform. And I think that what our government believes is that the problems that Spain and Europe face are sufficiently challenging that they will require difficult decisions, I think what has been called bold and decisive action. Each government has to really determine what specific – what the specifics of those bold and decisive actions are, but I think that our message to the Spanish Government has been – throughout this period of difficulty has been, we know that governments have to take tough decisions. Sometimes they’re not the most popular decisions. Sometimes they’re made at some political cost, but they’re absolutely essential in order to get financial and fiscal houses in order. And so I think he was commenting on the strength of leaders in both countries to take those kinds of steps.
MODERATOR: Once the ambassador calls on you, just please wait one moment for a microphone and please state your name and your media organization. Thanks.
AMBASSADOR SOLOMONT: Yes?
QUESTION: How are you sir? Thank you for doing this.
AMBASSADOR SOLOMONT: I’m terrific.
QUESTION: Wonderful. My name is Xavier Vila. I do work for Catalunya Radio headquartered in Barcelona. As you have been mentioning, you’re here in part also as to improve the economic relations between the two countries. What’s the model that the U.S. thinks will be better to implement for Spanish – for U.S. companies in Spain? First (ph) today in the news, a project that it’s been talking about in Spain regarding a huge complex with hotels and casinos brought by Mr. Adelson and he’s talking about building that thing either in – around Madrid or around Barcelona. Is this the kind of economic expansion that the Administration thinks would be good for the U.S. companies to be present in Spain? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR SOLOMONT: We support American companies that want to invest their capital in Spain and that want to put Spanish citizens to work and create economic activity in your country just as we support Spanish companies that want to come to the United States and invest their capital and put America’s – American citizens to work. We don’t favor any particular sector. One of the points that I’ve been stressing here in Washington and one of the most interesting dimensions of our economic relationship is the rapidly growing investment by Spanish companies in the United States. Spain is one of the fastest growing sources of direct foreign investment in our country in the fields of renewable energy, infrastructure, financial services, IT and other areas. Those investments are putting a lot of – tens of thousands Americans to work, they’re buying American products, they’re paying American taxes, and we want to do everything we possibly can to support those global companies that are doing that.
And by the same token – and we want to see those Spanish companies be able to compete on a level playing field in our country and have the same opportunities that – because I think it’s fair to say that most large enterprises today are not national companies, they’re global companies. And it’s a much more competitive economic environment where capital can go in any number of different places. And so we want to see Spanish capital go to the United States and invest there and create economic activity, and we want to support American companies that want to do that in Spain, make sure that they can compete on a level playing field and that they can sell their products and grow their businesses.
I’ve read a few things about the proposal. I guess I might add that I know Sheldon Adelson. He’s a Bostonian originally, and he’s got a very interesting story. He grew up as a very poor kid in Boston and he’s done quite well for himself. But it’s not for us to decide whether it’s hotels or thermal solar facilities. The point is that we want to support this free exchange of capital and trade that will benefit both of our economies.
QUESTION: (Inaudible), Spanish (inaudible) ABC Newspaper. Do you expected that (inaudible) call by President Obama to Rajoy when he was elected, because he was on the (inaudible) he was not calling, and he’s not been received in the White House like Monti. Monti was here some weeks ago.
AMBASSADOR SOLOMONT: Well, first of all, the very first call the President – the very first congratulatory call that President Rajoy received on election night, before he heard from any other representative of any other government, was from the United States ambassador to Spain.
Secondly, it is generally our policy, or the policy of the White House, not to call an elected official until he’s actually installed in office. That’s just something that – that’s our practice. And as soon as President Rajoy was actually – the week of – the day of his investiture speech, I believe, he received a call from President Obama, who was very anxious to speak with him, to congratulate him, and to look forward to meeting him.
I think president – the prime minister of Italy’s been in office a little longer than President Rajoy, and frankly, President Rajoy has a full agenda, frankly. But I look forward to there being an opportunity for the two leaders to meet and for President Rajoy to come to Washington at some point in the fairly near future.
QUESTION: Going back to the economy, the Obama Administration is arguing that making budget cuts and (inaudible) policy in the United States could kill the recovery. Aren’t you concerned that this could happen in Spain, the present policies in Spain could kill the recovery?
AMBASSADOR SOLOMONT: Well, I think we actually agree with the leaders of the Government of Spain that fiscal discipline is necessary and that deficits need to be restrained, but that the road to economic recovery is not through austerity alone, and that there needs to be also a strategy for growth. That’s been our approach to our own economic challenges. And you probably know as well as I do that yesterday there was a letter sent to the European Commission, signed by 10 European leaders, including Mariano Rajoy, that made exactly the point that it’s necessary for the European Union to adopt a growth strategy and reform – and an economic reform strategy as well as an austerity strategy. And I thought it was important to see that President Rajoy’s was a signature of that. So was the prime minister of Italy and eight other countries.
You covered the Barcelona Olympics?
QUESTION: I did, quite a long time ago.
AMBASSADOR SOLOMONT: I was there.
QUESTION: Oh wow. Competing? (Laughter.)
AMBASSADOR SOLOMONT: No, but watching carefully.
QUESTION: It was very nice, wasn’t it?
AMBASSADOR SOLOMONT: It was fantastic.
QUESTION: It was a great Olympics.
AMBASSADOR SOLOMONT: It was a great Olympics, and Barcelona did a marvelous job. And it obviously had a huge impact on the city and the country.
QUESTION: Now we’re trying in Madrid. I don’t know if we’re going to be lucky or not, but they’re trying again.
AMBASSADOR SOLOMONT: I’m trying to reserve my tickets.
QUESTION: So this is Lorenzo Milan (ph) from Television of Spain.
AMBASSADOR SOLOMONT: Yeah.
QUESTION: Can you – are you working in any particular date for a visit from President Rajoy to Washington? Or let’s imagine even further, is there any option to see President Obama in Spain sometime?
AMBASSADOR SOLOMONT: Well, first of all, I think the most important thing is that President Obama and President Rajoy are going to have an opportunity not only to meet but to work together in three different upcoming fora that are important to both countries – the nuclear security summit in Seoul; the G-20 meeting in Los Cabos, Mexico; and the NATO summit in Chicago. So that – although – even separate from a face-to-face bilateral meeting, they’re going to be engaged together in solving world problems on behalf of both of their countries and on behalf of these multilateral efforts.
We’ve been talking about the likely – or the possibility or the – we’ve been talking about plans to get them together, and we don’t have a date. And I don’t, frankly, control the President’s schedule any more than I can control President Rajoy’s schedule, as you may have heard me say to thousands of questions about when there would be a visit or a meeting or what have you. But obviously, President Obama wants to meet with President Rajoy, and President Rajoy wants to meet with President Obama, and the members of the Fourth Estate will simply have to be patient while we work on that.
QUESTION: Mr. Ambassador, in issues – Afghanistan or the anti-missile shield, did you find a different position in this government (inaudible) Spain?
AMBASSADOR SOLOMONT: No. I think, actually, the previous government was a very stalwart partner on these very issues. President Zapatero said about Afghanistan – actually it was shortly – I was in – I visited Afghanistan as ambassador twice and visited Spanish troops there and the PRT. And sometime after, I think, my first visit I recall the President Zapatero said to the congress, we will be there as long as it takes. So it was a pretty firm commitment on the behalf of Spain, the country, to the mission in Afghanistan. And this was something that was supported by President Rajoy when he was in the opposition. So there’s – I don’t think there’s any real change. I think it is significant that the new minister of defense, Morenes, went to Afghanistan in the first couple of weeks of his term. He made a, I thought, a strong decision that although the first drawdown of Spanish troops will begin in 2012, the first 10 percent, that will not take place until the fall, until after the fighting season, the spring and summer. I frankly thought it reflected the kind of wisdom and experience that we’ve seen in the team that Rajoy has assembled. But there’s no fundamental change in that position.
AMBASSADOR SOLOMONT: No. No. No. Similarly – and there’s always been – the commitment has always been, first of all, to the principle of “in together, out together.” Spain has been in Afghanistan from almost the beginning of this operation. And the commitment of the previous government and this government is that we’re part of a coalition of 48 nations and we’re going to work in coordination with our allies and with the ultimate goal to ensure that Afghanistan and that region is never again a launching pad for terrorist activity that can do harm to Spain, to its allies, to the United States.
With respect to the missile defense – the 14 – 4 – missile defense-capable destroyers at the naval station in Rota, when President Zapatero made the decision and made to – agreed to that, he discussed that with President – with then opposition leader Rajoy. And so one of the things I think that was interesting, and for which I compliment your country, is that there’s been a clear expression of bipartisan agreement on issues having to do with foreign policy and defense and national security that has been fairly explicitly communicated. And at a time when there’s a lot of talk about political differences and the difficulty of bringing different political positions together, I think Spain – my sense is that Spain is fairly united with respect to some of these issues having to do with foreign policy and defense.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Ambassador, you mentioned your introduction the wish of both countries of strengthening the relationship, and you specifically mentioned the G-20. Have both governments – (inaudible) and obviously your Administration talked about Spanish participation in the G-20? And do you think that difficulties in the Spanish economy may complicate somehow the participation of Spain becoming a full member, or – I don’t know what kind of (inaudible) do you envision for Spain?
AMBASSADOR SOLOMONT: Well, I think Spain is certainly a permanent participant in the G-20. I mean it – I think that’s been established. And I don’t think Spain’s economic challenges – in fact, in some respects I think Spain comes to the table in an important role – in an important position of being able to express views and strategies of how to support the efforts of Europe and the Eurozone to fix their problems. And so, as I said, Foreign Minister Margallo was in Los Cabos. I know that I was today with advisor to the president Mike Froman, who is the President’s sherpa on G-20 matters. I know he’s already met with Alvaro Nadal, who I think represents President Rajoy with respect to G-20 matters.
I don’t – I think it’s – I think in fairness, this isn’t – the Spanish Government is 60 days old, or more or less, and so I’m – I wouldn’t look to them yet to be leading the effort, but I think that the United States welcomes their participation in the G-20 and welcomes their perspective on – especially on how to straighten out the Eurozone’s difficulties because, as you know, together the United States and Europe constitute about 55 percent of the world’s GDP. This is the largest trading relationship in the world. Europe is the largest trading partner for various other important economies, so the health of Europe is critical, not just for the U.S. economy or the Spanish economy, but to the world economy. And so having a country that is, frankly, so much in the eye of the storm, if you will, I think is an important – will give Spain an important role at the G-20.
QUESTION: How do you explain – how do you – in what – in which terms do you talk about Spain with your government? What is Spain for you? What do you say about that? Spain is an economic mess? These guys are lazy? These guys are --
AMBASSADOR SOLOMONT: I tell them that they have some of the most handsome television newscasters that I’ve ever seen on television. (Laughter.) No, actually, I’ll tell you what I tell my colleagues. I tell them that Spain is an amazing success story, that when I read Spanish history and when I read about what Spain has gone through in terms of – your absolutely brutal civil war and a very difficult period of dictatorship, to think that in three decades Spain has created the kind of vibrant democracy and, up until recently, really – and still a prosperous economy, is remarkable. And I think it gives Spain an opportunity with respect to some of its neighbors that are going through transition – Spain is unique in terms of having achieved a democratic transition without a war, without a coup. I mean it’s – and I – so I mean that’s the first thing I tell people.
The second thing I tell people – well, is despite the economic challenges it faces, I like to look at the strengths. People say with unemployment at 23 percent, there’s been relative calm. I mean, you haven’t seen what you’ve seen in other countries that are facing difficulties. And I attribute that in part to a safety net that is still quite strong, to families that still take care of one another. And so – and to a real sense of cohesion in that regard, and that there are great strengths in the Spanish economy. Among them are these multinational companies that are based in Spain but that are investing all over the world and are very impressive in terms of their innovation and their contribution to the U.S. economy. And so I’m talking about the Inditex or Ibrugolo (ph) or Zampander (ph) or BBVA. BBVA, I think, employs 30,000 people in the United States through Compass Bank.
And so I want to make that – and since they’re playing such an important role in the health of our economy, I want people in Washington to be more aware of that as both a contribution but also as an opportunity to grow that. I invariably talk about the incredible historical, cultural, and linguistic connections between our countries. There are more people in my country that speak Spanish than in your country, and my wife and I have been working very hard to increase that number by two. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: You’re almost there. You’re almost there. (Laughter.)
MR. SOLOMONT: I wish I were farther along. The Spanish national flag has flown over what is the territory of the United States for a longer period of time than any other national flag. Over 300 years there was a Spanish national flag flying over what is today the United States. Our flag has only flown over our country for about 230 years, the British flag for about – less than 200 years. We’re about to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Ponce de Leon to what was – to the – what is now Florida. And the – and I’m hoping that that gives us an opportunity to delve more deeply into the connections that bind us. I grew up in New England, in Boston. I was taught that European colonization started in the 17th century, in 1620 when the pilgrims landed on Pilgrim Rock – at Plymouth Rock, excuse me. Somehow my education omitted about 200 years of relationship between our land and your country. So I’ve gotten a bit of an education over the last few years about that.
So I talk about all of the strengths of – and your relationship in renewable energy, in gastronomy, in sports. You may have noticed I’m an enthusiastic supporter and fan of your country. And I tell people one of the blessings that my wife and I have had is, first of all, to be asked to represent President Obama and to do this very important job, but really to have the honor of serving my country this way; secondly, to have been sent to a country as wonderful as Spain is and to live in the city of Madrid but to get to know the diversity of Spain; and thirdly, to come at a time when, despite the challenges that each of our countries face, the relationship between our countries has never been stronger. And so that’s been a very good platform for us at the U.S. Embassy to work from.
QUESTION: Ambassador, following on (inaudible) interesting question, in a way, what do you think the Spanish think of the U.S. in general after two years?
MR. SOLOMONT: You tell me. I’ll tell you what the data shows, okay? Because I think that the United States today is held in fairly high regard by the Spanish public. There’s no question – look, the relationship between the United States and Spain, although it’s always been rooted in common values and shared interests, has gone up and down depending on governments and specific policies. And my predecessors probably had some challenges that I’ve not had.
And public opinion has varied as well, but the fact of the matter is the relationship has been quite strong since President Obama was elected. I think that’s a function of the outreach that our President has made not just to Spain but to all of Europe and all over the globe, and he happens to be quite popular throughout Europe. And I think that has made the relationship between the governments stronger, but also I think if you look at the public opinion numbers, the United States has an approval rating of somewhere around 70 percent, or at least some numbers that I’ve seen. And where I come from, looking at polling numbers, that’s pretty good numbers.
And I’ve experienced personally an enormous warm reception not just in the bubble that I occupy but as we get around and visit not just with government leaders or business leaders but going into communities. And we’ve been very well received, and so I think the Spanish people like the United States. I hear of – I have heard about different kinds of sentiments, and I haven’t – I think if there were sort of negative feelings, I mean, we’re talking about country to country. You’re 47 million people; I’m sure there are some among the 47 million that don’t hold us in such high regard, but I think generally it’s very positive.
And I think the American people, the more they learn about Spain, think better. Spain is a very popular destination for students. It’s the third most popular destination in the world for college – for American students studying abroad. There are over 25,000 young Americans who come to Spain every year to study.
Let me just --
MODERATOR: We have a question in New York, actually. So –
MR. SOLOMONT: New York.
QUESTION: Hi. I don’t know if you can hear me. I am (inaudible) from Kunda (ph) Radio, Spanish radio, and I have one question because there are some news talking about the possibility that our minister of economy is planning to have a meeting with the president of the Federal Reserve, with Mr. Bernanke. I don’t know if you can elaborate on that. And how do you find it? It is important meeting and just tell us about (inaudible).
MR. SOLOMONT: Well, I think it’s really – I have heard the same news I’ve been here in Washington for the last few days, so I don’t want to be the one to either confirm or not. But I have heard that Luis de Guindos is planning to come to Washington and is planning – I’ve heard that he is planning to meet with Chairman Bernanke. And I think it’s very important that that relationship be created.
MR. SOLOMONT: Well, but this fellow back here was – and then --
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Sir, are there any conversations as to remove EFA (ph) off United States Department list of terrorist organizations since they seem to be not as active as they were? And any conversations regarding Guantanamo Bay detainees eventually going to Spain?
MR. SOLOMONT: To your first question, no. To your second question, we have – as you know, Spain has accepted three detainees from Guantanamo. Our government is still committed to closing the facility. It has proved more difficult than we had hoped, but I think the President – our President is committed to closing it. And we hope someday that we’ll be able to complete that work.
Did you --
MR. SOLOMONT: Oh. Okay.
QUESTION: In your reports to the Department of State, what do you say about the territorial tensions in Spain? Do you – in your forecast for the future, you see a united country or you see an independent Catalonia or Basque country?
MR. SOLOMONT: I think we recognize the diversity of Spain, and I don’t see it as totally unlike the diversity in the United States. We have different regions that are quite different and have great senses of regional pride. It’s hard to imagine that Maine and Texas belong to the same country. So I think we respect the diversity of Spain, we respect the pride that people feel in their regions in Catalonia, in the Basque country, and – but we – our relationship is with the sovereign nation of Spain, and that’s that. I’m here – I represent the United States to Spain and I get to visit Pais Vasco and Catalonia and other regions. But my relationship is with the country.
QUESTION: Ambassador, do you expect a closer and more productive relation with Spain regarding the policy of the Spanish Government towards Cuba?
MR. SOLOMONT: Actually, I read something – I read a report that the deputy foreign minister of Cuba was quite critical of your foreign minister over some remarks that he made. I think that it’s fair to say that our views about Cuba are probably more closely aligned today than they may have been in the past. I think Margallo has been fairly clear that he sees no change in the European Union’s common position.
And I think we’ve always shared with the Government of Spain a view that we look forward to Cuba being a democratic country and ending the harsh dictatorship that exists there. So I think some of our differences have been more on tactics and means, but as I say, I think we’re probably more closely aligned now.
QUESTION: Mr. Ambassador, (inaudible) Television of Catalonia. Thank you very much for having us.
MR. SOLOMONT: Thank you for being here.
QUESTION: And following up the question about the Catalonian pride that you feel. Do you expect, do you fear, do you forecast any impact of the (inaudible) in the Spanish life?
MR. SOLOMONT: No.
MR. SOLOMONT: Different countries, different situations. I don’t worry about what’s happening in the United Kingdom. I worry about what’s happening here in my country and in your country and in our relationship.
QUESTION: We have lately these couple of months – last month we had some confusing information about the Palomares radioactive sands from the accident a few decades ago. Is there any news that you can share with us?
MR. SOLOMONT: Nothing new other than, as you know, the United States worked very closely with the government at that time in cleaning that area and has for 40 years worked with the Spanish Government to monitor the situation. There have been recent reports which were the result of a study that was sponsored by our government that there is some contamination. And so we have been studying the situation with the Spanish Government with a view to trying to work with them on a resolution, and I don’t have anything new to report to you right now.
MODERATOR: Okay, we’ll go in the back.
QUESTION: Going back to the previous question that I asked you regarding (inaudible) Mr. Adelson, you have said that you know the country, you’ve been around, you’ve been in Catalonia and the Basque country, Madrid. Knowing the American people and how they like to vacation out there, what do you think is the best spot for such a project? I mean, is it better to be by the ocean or not? I’m talking about the cruises getting there with American people, or (inaudible)?
MR. SOLOMONT: I would just say this. It’s always impressed me that in a country with 47 million people that over – well over 50 million come here for vacation and as tourists. It has disappointed me that there aren’t more Americans coming. I think a million, a million and a half. So I would like to see more Americans come to visit Spain so that more of my compatriots will share my enthusiasm for the country. What they come for, where they go, I don’t care. There’s enough to satisfy just about anyone.
MODERATOR: We have time for just a few more questions, and I just wanted to draw our attention to our colleagues in New York as well, as we have just a few more minutes, so if anyone in New York has a question.
AMBASSADOR SOLOMONT: Nobody’s asked me about our presidential election. (Laughter.)
AMBASSADOR SOLOMONT: (Laughter.) I think you’re fixated on one element. What do you think the most important thing for the Spanish people to learn about presidential elections in the United States is? And I’ll tell you what I hope is learned.
QUESTION: You can (inaudible).
AMBASSADOR SOLOMONT: Okay. So this is what I think are really the things to watch. First of all, president – and this is something that – I taught a course on the American presidency for a few years at – in a university in the United States, and I did have the opportunity for – during the Clinton years of having what was sort of a front-row seat on this amazing institution. And so I have a lot of thoughts about the institution and how we – I think, first of all, that the presidential elections are really a national conversation that the American people have about the direction of our country. And it’s a very profoundly important experience that we have here. That’s why we drag it out so long.
But that’s really what it is. It’s really – it’s a conversation that includes people over a long period of time in conversations in the streets of New Hampshire or in the caucuses of Iowa, and it’s – and yet it’s by and large a conversation we’ve been having since the founding of the republic, which is what do we want from our government, what’s the balance that we want between our public and private sectors. People – they’re in – I know some of you covered the midterm elections in 2010, and there was a lot of talk about the Tea Party and people asked me about it. And I said the Tea Party isn’t all that new because we’ve been having this discussion about our government since we were founded. The Federalist Papers contain some of the same kinds of discussions. And so we’re going to have that discussion again, or we’re having that discussion right now.
I also think that presidential elections in the United States are about something. They’re not about personalities. They’re about something. I think that the 2004 election was about national security. It’s the first election after 9/11 and I think that’s really – and the Democrats put up a candidate who could talk to that issue in John Kerry, and the President obviously could talk to that issue. I think that the 2008 election was about change and a redirection of our public policy.
I think that this election is going to be about what the American people want from their government, what they want the role of government to be. And I think we’re going to have a very spirited conversation about that, which is a good thing. And I think that the other important message about American presidential politics is that it is such an incredibly democratic process. It involves millions of people in so many different ways. It’s not perfect and we’re seeing some flaws. But I’ve been to caucuses in Iowa. I’ve knocked on doors in New Hampshire. I’ve been to nominating conventions. It is really remarkable how we engage our citizens in this democratic process that results in selecting the person who will occupy the most powerful office in the world.
And that’s – the other thing that’s interesting is that it is an amazing institution, the American presidency. I think it’s unlike anything else that I’ve seen in terms of its influence, its power, its – and yet it revolves around a single human being, which is the other sort of interesting dimension about it. And if you look at the presidencies, the last several, they were completely different personalities, completely – and they brought completely different qualities to the office. And so although it is – it has an institutional life that is consistent, it also – it has a different personality with each new occupant.
QUESTION: And very limited, too. I mean, in Spain, it takes out of – a while – an effort to explain to the Spanish audience that the actual most powerful man in the world is not as powerful as President Rajoy, in terms of – he has to deal all the time with Congress, and you’ve got the Supreme Court.
AMBASSADOR SOLOMONT: That is both the great strength and that is the great beauty of our system. It is both – it is enormously open. I mean, I think it’s fair to say that one of the things Spain is struggling with is how does it engage more of its citizens, and this is all a matter of sort of balance and tradeoff. But I hope that the Embassy will have an opportunity over these next months to sort of talk about our presidential election, not in terms of who’s up or who’s down or this – who the Republicans – but really, in terms of what the – what we think are really the important driving forces. And maybe on one occasion when I’m back in Washington, we can devote a discussion to that and maybe I can hear an answer to my question to you as opposed to just giving you my answer. Okay?
I think we’re going to get the hook. Last question.
MODERATOR: One more question.
AMBASSADOR SOLOMONT: Okay.
QUESTION: Mr. Ambassador, (inaudible) donor to political campaigns, just as Mr. Adelson, what --
AMBASSADOR SOLOMONT: No, no, no. I have never given – (laughter) – I have never given $5 million to anyone.
QUESTION: I know, I know, I know. No, what can you say about the role of money in American campaigns, and particularly in (inaudible)?
AMBASSADOR SOLOMONT: How long do you have?
QUESTION: (Laughter.) All tonight.
AMBASSADOR SOLOMONT: Look, we finance our political campaigns privately in the United States. That’s just the reality. I think if you look at the 1980s and ‘90s, that a great deal – our campaigns were driven a lot by television advertising, and so a lot of – there was a lot of effort to solicit donors who would contribute money so that candidates could buy advertising on television. That still is the case.
However, although money is – I think one of the things we started to see in 2008 and that we continue to see is that the importance of grassroots politics, of grassroots organizing of people participating in the process is becoming, again, more important. I used to say to people that prior to the 2008 election that a lot of Americans participated in presidential campaigns by sitting on their couch watching 30-second ads or sitting at their desk writing checks – that in 2008, people got off their couches and got up from their desks and went out and talked to their neighbors and tried to engage people in the choices that they had. And I think that was a very – if you look at these things over the broad stretch of history, because we finance our campaigns privately, there has always been an influence of money.
If you go back to the presidential campaign in 1896 – you don’t remember that, but I do – the campaign manager of the fellow who was running – maybe he was the chairman of the Republican – one of the national committees. And he was running the campaign of, I think, McKinley. But anyways, he had this to say. He said there are two things that are important in political campaigns: money and I can’t remember the other. (Laughter.) And so we – there’s a long history of this, but I also think that it’s – sometimes, we pay too much attention to that and not as much attention as we ought to, to all of the other things.
So for example, one of the things we’re seeing in this cycle is the importance of debates – of putting the candidates up in front of people, in front of live audiences and TV audiences, and having them state their – put out their opinions and stuff. That’s been very – a significant element in the Republican nominating process, and so that’s what I have to say about that. You’ll have to wait and read my book on financing political campaigns.
QUESTION: Can I make a follow-up question --
QUESTION: Go ahead.
QUESTION: -- okay – about the money role? It seems that in this election, more than any of the ones – because of the SuperPACs that change in the Supreme Court, and now the people like (inaudible) can make $5 million. Are you worried or the government is worried about the impact that will have these SuperPACs in the image of – not only in, like, the states that money buys elections, also outside (inaudible).
AMBASSADOR SOLOMONT: Well, I don’t subscribe to that notion that money buys elections.
QUESTION: Well, (inaudible).
AMBASSADOR SOLOMONT: Well, let me finish. Let me finish. There were many people who felt that the Supreme Court made an ill – a decision that was not in the best interest of a healthy democracy when it decided to permit what has become these SuperPACs. I think that what is important in politics is that there be a great deal of transparency, that people have an opportunity to know how – be able to learn about their – the candidate, about how they’re conducting their campaign. This isn’t a discussion about the pros and cons of SuperPACs, so I probably don’t want to get too deeply into that, but we don’t know yet what the ultimate outcome of that is going to be.
And I don’t – I have a great deal of faith in the American democracy and the ability of – ultimately for – I mean, it – even if you look at the 2010 elections, which had really changed the political landscape, it wasn’t a matter of money. It was a lot of grassroots organizing and expressions of people’s wanting changes then. If you look at 2008 and what result – how President Barack Obama came from being a senator in the – state senator in Illinois to being a U.S. senator for two years and then became President of the United States, it wasn’t a matter of money.
And remember too that a lot of people – a lot of these campaigns are financed with small donors, small donations, people sending in $25 because they believe in a candidate and they want to provide support. It’s not all about these other super – so we’ll see. I mean, I don’t – I think we’ll have to get a little bit of perspective and see what the impact is on – but I wouldn’t jump to that conclusion.
MODERATOR: Thank you, everyone. Ambassador, thank you very much for participating this evening.
AMBASSADOR SOLOMONT: Thank you all. It’s a pleasure to spend some time with you and I look forward to doing it again.
QUESTION: Thank you.
# # #