Did John McCain, who prides himself on his foreign policy chops, not know who the Spanish leader is? Or, was he taking a hard line against Spain's socialist government?
The Spanish media, in particular, is trying to solve that riddle after the Republican presidential candidate's interview this week with a Spanish-language radio station in Miami.
After asking about Cuba and Venezuela, governments not friendly to the United Sates, the interviewer asked whether McCain would meet with Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the Spanish prime minister who was reelected in March.
"I will meet with those leaders who are our friends and who want to work with us cooperatively," McCain replied, according to one translation.
The questioner tried to clarify, "Okay, but I'm talking about Europe - the president of Spain, would you meet with him?"
"I will meet with any leader who has the same principles and philosophy that we do: human rights, democracy, and liberty. And I will confront those that don't," McCain answered.
One possible factor: Soon after taking office in 2004, Zapatero pulled Spanish troops out of Iraq. McCain, of course, has made success in Iraq a central front in his campaign.
McCain's senior policy adviser insisted today that McCain meant what he suggested about not necessarily meeting Zapatero.
"Senator McCain refused to commit to a White House meeting with President Zapatero in this interview," Randy Sheunemann told the Washington Post.
Liberal-leaning groups are letting loose on McCain over the episode.
"This is beyond extreme. This is beyond reckless. This is insane," Max Bergmann, deputy director of the National Security Network said in a statement.
"McCain won't meet with a NATO ally, that has nearly 1,000 troops in Afghanistan, that has lost more than 20 soldiers there, has been brutally attacked by Al Qaeda, is incredibly influential in Latin America, has the seventh largest economy in the world, is a DEMOCRACY, and is a large and influential country in the EU. Won't meet with them?"
UPDATE: Asked for comment, the Spanish embassy in Washington today cited a statement made by Zapatero.
“I believe it is only logical that he has shown the necessary prudence, since there is an electoral process going on. From my point of view, relations with the United States are an important task in our foreign policy. We have maintained positive relations throughout the last years, government to government.
"It is true I have not had a formal meeting with President Bush. But that has never been in the way of the work that has been accomplished.
"The government I lead will work with the next U.S. administration, whatever the outcome of the elections. And it will work with a constructive and loyal will, the way it should be between two countries that consider each other partners in the international context.”
"The only plausible explanation for McCain not wanting to meet with Zapatero, is that, like Bush, he is still angry about Spain pulling its troops out of Iraq in 2004. If McCain carries that much of a grudge then how in the world will he rebuild our relationship with Europe, as he has said he would do."
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.