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Bush Entertains Spanish Royalty at Ranch

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CRAWFORD, Texas — President Bush had the king and queen of Spain over for a Texas-style lunch today, extending a ceremonial olive branch to a nation that dropped out of the coalition of countries fighting in Iraq.

"Spain is a great country and good friend," the president told reporters as he welcomed King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia to his Texas ranch for a pre-Thanksgiving feast of free-range turkey and locally caught bass.

Although the White House did not divulge details of the lunch discussion, it appeared to signal an effort by the president to repair ties with a key European ally after an earlier falling-out over Iraq policy.

The effort comes as Bush, facing formidable challenges around the world, is seeking to build support among nations that have kept their distance from the United States over a number of issues.

Under former Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, Spain was among the first nations to support Bush's decision to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and to deploy troops for the March 2003 military offensive.

But relations cooled following the election of Socialist Party Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero on March 14, 2004, three days after more than 200 people were killed in a terrorist bombing in Madrid.

Zapatero had denounced the U.S.-led invasion and military occupation and withdrew Spain's 1,300 troops from Iraq ahead of schedule. Bush and Zapatero have not met in the eight months since Zapatero's election.

In what was widely interpreted as a snub, Bush did not return a congratulatory call from Zapatero after winning reelection on Nov. 2. But he welcomed Aznar to the White House when the former prime minister visited Washington earlier this month.

Prior to today's lunch, the prime minister's office said the king would be relaying a message from Zapatero to Bush, but it declined to disclose the contents or whether it was verbal or written, the Associated Press reported from Madrid.

Political analysts in Spain speculated that Zapatero wanted to improve relations with the Bush administration, and was hoping that the royal couple's luncheon with the president might provide an opening.

Any movement toward rapprochement toward Spain would fit within a broader administration effort to reengage with key allies on Iraq and other foreign policy issues, from the Middle East conflict to nuclear proliferation in Iran and North Korea.

Some allies have criticized Bush for what they see as a penchant for acting unilaterally instead of collaboratively. The administration insists that is not the case, and has launched an outreach campaign that will include a visit by Bush to European capitals in early 2005.

Under Spain's form of government, power is wielded by the prime minister and parliament, while the monarchs' role is largely ceremonial. Nevertheless, the king and queen serve as national emissaries and ambassadors of good will.

Upon arriving at the ranch in a Marine Corps helicopter, Juan Carlos and Sofia were greeted by the president and Laura Bush and former President George H.W. Bush. They climbed into a white pickup truck driven by the president for a pre-lunch tour of the 1,600-acre Prairie Chapel Ranch.

"Adios," Bush told reporters before driving off. "That means goodbye."

Besides turkey and fish, the lunch menu included mashed sweet potatoes with maple syrup and chipotles, pan-roasted root vegetables with walnuts and apples, cornbread stuffing, pecan and pumpkin pie and Blue Bell ice cream, a Texas favorite.

The Bushes were planning to celebrate Thanksgiving at the ranch with the president's parents and Mrs. Bush's mother. Also on hand were their twin daughters, Jenna and Barbara, whose 23rd birthday is Thursday.

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