Spain restarts talks to resolve Catalan secession crisis

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Catalonian regional president Pere Aragonès, right, meet at the headquarter of the Government of Catalonia in Barcelona, Spain, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021. Spain's prime minister and the leader of Catalonia are restarting negotiations in hopes of finding a solution to the ongoing political crisis caused by the region's separatist movement. (AP Photo/Joan Mateu Parra)
Caption
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Catalonian regional president Pere Aragonès, right, meet at the headquarter of the Government of Catalonia in Barcelona, Spain, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021. Spain's prime minister and the leader of Catalonia are restarting negotiations in hopes of finding a solution to the ongoing political crisis caused by the region's separatist movement. (AP Photo/Joan Mateu Parra)

Credit: Joan Mateu Parra

Credit: Joan Mateu Parra

Spain’s prime minister and the leader of Catalonia have restarted negotiations in hopes of finding a solution to the ongoing political crisis caused by the region’s separatist movement

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Spain’s prime minister and Catalonia's leader met Wednesday to restart negotiations in hopes of finding a solution to the ongoing political crisis caused by the region’s separatist movement.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said the two-hour meeting with regional president Pere Aragonès was important to continue mending relations between their governments, but that there would be no quick fix to the secession conundrum.

“Our positions are very different, it is important to underscore that. We will have to talk a lot, listen to each other, and make efforts to bring out positions together where we can. We are not going to resolve a decade-long crisis in one day,” Sánchez said.

“(But) we agree that these negotiations are the best way forward.”

While Aragonès repeated his demands that Spain authorize a referendum on independence and grant a general amnesty to all separatists in trouble with the law, Sánchez insisted on finding ways to improve the economic and social wellbeing of Catalans inside Spain.

“It is time to build trust,” Aragonès said. “Both governments demonstrated today the will to advance forward in the resolution of this conflict.”

Expectations were low for any huge advances from the meeting which has caused a rift within the separatist camp. Aragonès and his Republican Left of Catalonia party call the talks a “historic opportunity.”

But leaders of the junior party in Aragonès’ government did not attend the meeting and have voiced their doubts about its chances of success. The influential grassroots group National Catalan Assembly said that the talks will only serve to derail their cause.

The talks come with 7.5 million Catalans entrenched in two roughly equal camps. Polls and election results over the past five years consistently show that half of Catalonia wants to remain in Spain, while the other half wants to sever all ties.

Sánchez inherited the political crisis when he took office in 2018, not a year after the leaders of Catalonia’s government and separatist grassroots groups failed in a unilateral breakaway bid that violated the Spanish Constitution.

In a bold move to reduce tensions, the Socialist leader took the decision in June to pardon the nine imprisoned instigators of the 2017 secession attempt. Both the pardons and the talks have been heavily criticized by Spain’s right-wing parties.

After years of scant dialogue between Catalonia’s leaders and Spain’s then ruling conservatives, Sánchez met with Aragonès’ predecessor, Quim Torra, in February 2020 in Madrid. The outcome of that meeting was to agree to hold meetings once a month. But those were put on hold by the pandemic, which struck Spain just weeks after.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Catalonian regional president Pere Aragonès, right, arrive at the headquarter of the Government of Catalonia in Barcelona, Spain, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021. Spain's prime minister and the leader of Catalonia are restarting negotiations in hopes of finding a solution to the ongoing political crisis caused by the region's separatist movement. (AP Photo/Joan Mateu Parra)
Caption
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Catalonian regional president Pere Aragonès, right, arrive at the headquarter of the Government of Catalonia in Barcelona, Spain, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021. Spain's prime minister and the leader of Catalonia are restarting negotiations in hopes of finding a solution to the ongoing political crisis caused by the region's separatist movement. (AP Photo/Joan Mateu Parra)

Credit: Joan Mateu Parra

Credit: Joan Mateu Parra

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Catalonian regional president Pere Aragonès, right, talk at the headquarter of the Government of Catalonia in Barcelona, Spain, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021. Spain's prime minister and the leader of Catalonia are restarting negotiations in hopes of finding a solution to the ongoing political crisis caused by the region's separatist movement. (AP Photo/Joan Mateu Parra)
Caption
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Catalonian regional president Pere Aragonès, right, talk at the headquarter of the Government of Catalonia in Barcelona, Spain, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021. Spain's prime minister and the leader of Catalonia are restarting negotiations in hopes of finding a solution to the ongoing political crisis caused by the region's separatist movement. (AP Photo/Joan Mateu Parra)

Credit: Joan Mateu Parra

Credit: Joan Mateu Parra

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Catalonian regional president Pere Aragonès, right, arrive at the headquarter of the Government of Catalonia in Barcelona, Spain, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021. Spain's prime minister and the leader of Catalonia are restarting negotiations in hopes of finding a solution to the ongoing political crisis caused by the region's separatist movement. (AP Photo/Joan Mateu Parra)
Caption
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Catalonian regional president Pere Aragonès, right, arrive at the headquarter of the Government of Catalonia in Barcelona, Spain, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021. Spain's prime minister and the leader of Catalonia are restarting negotiations in hopes of finding a solution to the ongoing political crisis caused by the region's separatist movement. (AP Photo/Joan Mateu Parra)

Credit: Joan Mateu Parra

Credit: Joan Mateu Parra

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Catalonian regional president Pere Aragonès, right, arrive at the headquarter of the Government of Catalonia in Barcelona, Spain, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021. Spain's prime minister and the leader of Catalonia are restarting negotiations in hopes of finding a solution to the ongoing political crisis caused by the region's separatist movement. (AP Photo/Joan Mateu Parra)
Caption
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Catalonian regional president Pere Aragonès, right, arrive at the headquarter of the Government of Catalonia in Barcelona, Spain, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021. Spain's prime minister and the leader of Catalonia are restarting negotiations in hopes of finding a solution to the ongoing political crisis caused by the region's separatist movement. (AP Photo/Joan Mateu Parra)

Credit: Joan Mateu Parra

Credit: Joan Mateu Parra

Demonstrators march holding a pro-independence flag during the Catalan National Day in Barcelona, Spain, Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. Thousands of Catalans have rallied for independence from the rest of Spain in their first major mass gathering since the start of the pandemic. The march in Barcelona on Saturday comes before a meeting between regional leaders in northeast Catalonia and the Spanish government. ( AP Photo/Joan Mateu Parra)
Caption
Demonstrators march holding a pro-independence flag during the Catalan National Day in Barcelona, Spain, Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. Thousands of Catalans have rallied for independence from the rest of Spain in their first major mass gathering since the start of the pandemic. The march in Barcelona on Saturday comes before a meeting between regional leaders in northeast Catalonia and the Spanish government. ( AP Photo/Joan Mateu Parra)

Credit: Joan Mateu Parra

Credit: Joan Mateu Parra