It took the White House more than seven years to lock in Spain on President Barack Obama's foreign travel schedule. But events beyond Obama's control have turned his first and only visit to Spain, the largest European country that had yet to welcome the president, into a rushed one.
Instead of spending two days sightseeing in southern Spain and tending to more official business in the capital of Madrid, the White House scrapped some of Obama's events — including a staple of his foreign travels, a question-and-answer forum with young adults — and crammed the rest of his schedule into Sunday.
Deadly shootings last week of black men by police in Louisiana and Minnesota, followed by the sniper killings of five police officers in Dallas, led Obama to make the unusual choice to return to the White House late Sunday, a day earlier than originally planned.
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Obama has been loath to tear up his schedule in response to previous acts of violence, saying repeatedly that altering his plans would be tantamount to giving in to terrorists. But terrorists didn't strike in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, near St. Paul, Minnesota, or Dallas. The assaults followed June's deadly shooting at an Orlando, Florida, nightclub and the rise in so-called lone-wolf terrorism, heightening fears about public safety.
Obama noted the "difficult week" as he made small talk Sunday with King Felipe VI after arriving at Spain's Royal Palace for a meeting.
The king thanked Obama for visiting under the circumstances. He also gave the president an English edition of Don Quixote, the famed Spanish novel by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. The book's leather cover is stamped with the U.S. seal and the seal of Spain's Royal House.
"I wish I was staying longer," Obama said Sunday. His wife, Michelle, and their daughters, Malia and Sasha, stopped in Spain in late June during the first lady's three-country trip to promote education for adolescent girls in developing countries.
After meeting with acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Obama lauded the long-standing ties between the U.S. and Spain and complimented economic policies put in place under Rajoy's leadership, saying the changes have begun to "bear fruit." The economy is a top concern of the Spanish public, with nearly 5 million people out of work and the unemployment rate at about 20 percent.
Spain has been gripped by a political stalemate for months, with Rajoy unable to rally the political support he needs to form a new coalition government following a late-June election. It was the country's second round of inconclusive balloting in the past year.
Rajoy's party also won an election in December, but no other major party would help him form a government.
Rajoy thanked Obama for visiting and offered his condolences for the Dallas shooting. He touched on Spain's improving economic outlook and the political crisis, saying that having a third election in less than a year would be "a joke" that would damage the economy.
Obama also thanked Rajoy for his government's contributions as a fellow NATO ally, and for hosting U.S. sailors and guided missile destroyers at a naval base on the southern coast. A visit to the base, including an event with troops, was to be Obama's final stop before the flight to Washington.
Shortly before departing for the base, the White House says he met with leaders from Spain's main opposition parties.
Obama originally planned to spend Sunday and Monday in Spain, including a half-day of sightseeing in the south. But he cut it to one day by scrapping the sightseeing and his standard question-and-answer session with young adults.