France's Sarkozy making state visit to Spain

French President Nicolas Sarkozy began a two-day state visit to Spain yesterday during which he is to discuss issues including terrorism and the international financial crisis with Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

Sarkozy, accompanied by his wife Carla Bruni, was greeted at Madrid's airport by Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos. The couple were then taken to the Pardo palace on Madrid's outskirts where visiting dignitaries traditionally stay. There they met with King Juan Carlos and the Spanish premier and were honored with a military parade.

After lunching with the monarch, the royal couple were to accompany Sarkozy and his wife on a visit to the Prado art museum in downtown Madrid. Later Monday, Sarkozy was to meet members of the French community in Spain and hold talks with conservative opposition Popular Party leader Mariano Rajoy.

On Tuesday, Sarkozy and Zapatero will host a Spanish-French summit of ministers during which they are to discuss cooperation in combating the armed Basque group ETA.

French police have arrested dozens of suspected ETA members in recent years, including the group's three suspected chiefs in recent months.

ETA has killed more than 825 people in Spain in its 40-year campaign for a Basque state. Many of its members live in hiding in Basque areas of southwestern France.

Officials say the two leaders are also likely to discuss the international financial crisis, Spain's upcoming presidency of the European Union and other issues such as immigration, Afghanistan and the fight against piracy in waters off Somalia.

About 10 technical accords are to be signed by ministers, on energy, water routes, education and security.

Earlier this month, there was a commotion in diplomatic circles over Sarkozy's reported retort that the Spanish leader was "perhaps not very smart."

French newspaper "Liberation" reported April 16 that Sarkozy made the comments during a private meeting with lawmakers. Sarkozy's office denied them, but they still provoked a political uproar in France.

Sarkozy and Zapatero gave interviews ahead of the trip vaunting their close ties.

"I have a very good relationship with Nicolas Sarkozy and I know that all the comments he could have made about me were positive," Zapatero told French daily Le Monde.

In an interview in Spain's El Pais on Sunday, Sarkozy called Zapatero "a man of talent, a man of conviction, a great man of Europe."