MADRID, Spain – President Barack Obama is due to arrive in Spain Saturday for an 18-hour stop, the first U.S. president to visit in 15 years, before returning home to pressing problems in his own country.
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Obama, who is traveling to Spain from the NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland, cut a day off his visit after the shooting death of five police officers in Dallas and he will come back to the U.S. on Sunday instead of Monday as had been planned.
White House officials said Obama is visiting Spain to demonstrate its importance as a NATO ally. With that in mind, the President will tour the U.S. Naval Station in Rota, Spain, where four U.S. Navy vessels are stationed to bolster NATO security.
The President, who is set to arrive in the late afternoon Saturday before departing in the early afternoon Sunday, canceled a town hall meeting with young Spaniards and will not go to Seville, where he was to meet with King Felipe VI and see cultural attractions.
The King sent a telegraph to Obama on Friday offering the condolences of the Spanish people and condemning the violence in Dallas.
Obama is still expected to meet with the King in Madrid.
The President’s trip to Spain — likely his last to a European country as president — is highly anticipated by a nation that has not seen a U.S president visit since George W. Bush in June 2001 and whose political system is in chaos.
In June, Spain elected Mariano Rajoy, leader of the People’s Party, as acting prime minister. The vote, which was the second after the first balloting in December was too close to call, did not give any party a parliamentary majority.
Obama will meet with Rajoy, as well as other political party leaders.
“Recognizing that we’re in a fluid political moment in Spain as they are sorting through the aftermath of their election, we want to make sure that we are interacting with all of Spain’s major political parties,” Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said ahead of the President’s trip.
Following remarks at the U.S. naval station Sunday, Obama will return to Washington. The White House has not yet announced which day Obama will visit Dallas, although it has said it will be some time early next week.
Spain is the largest European country the President hasn’t visited and he is also the last member of his family to go to the country while in office. Last week, First Lady Michelle Obama and their daughters Sasha and Malia traveled to Spain to highlight the “Let Girls Learn” Initiative, targeted at educating millions of girls around the world.