The visit is Obama’s first to Spain as president. White House officials said it was important for Obama to make the trip, because Spain was the only major European country he had not traveled to during his presidency.
Obama was supposed to spend two days in Spain after attending a NATO summit in Warsaw where the United States, Spain and other allies pledged to stand united in the face of threats from Russia and fallout from Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.
But, after a sniper killed five police officers in Dallas on Thursday following the fatal shootings of two black men by police in Louisiana and Minnesota, the White House cut short the trip so Obama could go to Dallas.
Plans for sightseeing in Seville and a town hall meeting with Spanish citizens were canceled. Instead Obama, who landed in Madrid late on Saturday night, is squeezing in sessions with King Felipe VI and acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on Sunday.
He will also address troops at Naval Station Rota, before heading back to the United States on Sunday night.
Speaking alongside King Felipe at Madrid’s royal palace, Obama said he wished he could stay longer in Spain, which he said he first visited just before entering law school, traveling cheaply with a backpack on a trip done mostly by foot.
“We have had a difficult week back in the United States, so my trip is a little abbreviated but I thought it was very important for me to come here, given the extraordinary friendship and alliance between Spain and the U.S.,” he said.
King Felipe, who visited Obama in the White House last year with his wife Queen Letizia, said Spain was committed to maintaining the closest possible cooperation with the United States.
“Spain and the U.S. share principles and interests, and the links between our two countries have strengthened intensely in all areas,” he said.
In an interview with Spain’s El Pais published on Saturday, Obama called Spain “an indispensable European partner.”
“Spain is a strong NATO ally, we’re grateful for Spain’s many decades of hosting U.S. forces, and we’re major trading partners,” Obama said in the interview. “That’s why the United States is deeply committed to maintaining our relationship with a strong, unified Spain.”
Spain has been stuck in a near seven-month political stalemate since a national election in December stripped Rajoy of his majority and forced parties to negotiate, so far without success, about forming a coalition government.
Rajoy’s conservative People’s Party (PP) failed to win a parliamentary majority in a repeat election last month meaning the deadlock looks set to continue.