Inocencio Arias, adjusts one of his characteristic bow ties. Ignacio Gil
Inocencio Arias is used to working quietly in the background to provide vital solutions to problems that would otherwise develop into major conflicts between countries. After 35 years in the Spanish diplomatic service he knows what he is talking about when he refers to the “balance and respect” with which a country’s leader must tackle international relations.
This diplomat, born in Almeria in 1940, has had the chance to experience first hand how Spain’s leaders have fared in international circles, from Adolfo Suárez and Leopoldo Calvo-Sotelo to Felipe González, José María Aznar and José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. More importantly he has witnessed what other world leaders have thought of their Spanish counterparts.
Now Arias has gathered all this experience, as well as his interpretation of Spain’s leaders’ role in international circles, in his book ‘Los presidentes y la diplomacia’ published by Plaza y Janés.
Like a true diplomat the writer chooses his words with care. “Perhaps Zapatero was the weakest of all of them, the one who was most out of place at international meetings and who got the least out of them”, says Arias. To illustrate his view he compares Zapatero to a ‘novillero’, a fighter of young bulls who finds himself in the ring with the real thing.
González and Aznar were different though, and their international achievements - each pulling in his own direction - have been praised by Arias in his book.
“The Gibraltar conflict is not going to be solved for the time being, but if it was ever rolling in the right direction, at least for the long term, it was under Aznar when Josep Piqué was foreign minister”, recalls the author.
Arias is firm, however, in his criticism of the Spanish leaders’ language skills.
“It is unacceptable for the prime ministers not to speak English. Before it may have been considered normal, but now it is incomprehensible”, he insists. Arias admits that there are translators and interpreters at hand, “but it’s not the same”.
The prestige enjoyed by Spain’s leaders is not the same inside as it is outside this country. The image of the King, for example, suffered here due to his elephant hunting incident in Botswana, but the issue had no repercussions outside Spain.
Arias admits that there are more details than those included in his book that he has kept to himself. “I think I’ve said enough in this case, as much as the habitual discretion of a diplomat allows”, he adds.