Catalan leaders ready for dialogue with Spanish Authorities

Catalonia is prepared to enter into a dialogue on independence with its Spanish counterparts “without preconditions,” Catalan President Carles Puigdemont told CNN on Wednesday.

Speaking a day after he suspended a formal declaration of independence, Puigdemont struck a conciliatory tone, saying he favored mediation to resolve the crisis.

But he insisted that most Catalans wanted a split from Spain. “The relationship between Catalonia and Spain does not work and the majority of Catalan people want Catalonia as an independent state,” he said.

On Tuesday Puigdemont backed away from an immediate declaration of independence, while at the same time stating that Catalonia has won the right to establish a separate republic following the disputed October 1 referendum.

Puigdemont then led a group of Catalan lawmakers in signing what appeared to be a symbolic declaration of independence. The legal status of the declaration was unclear.

The Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, said after a meeting of his cabinet Wednesday that he had formally asked the Catalan government to clarify its actions. He said the Spanish government would decide how to proceed, depending on the response it receives from Barcelona.

Rajoy has the option of invoking Article 155 of the Spanish constitution, which would allow him to impose direct rule on Catalonia from Madrid.

He called on the Catalan authorities to “return to institutional normality and go back to legality.” Rajoy has previously refused to hold talks unless Puigdemont drops his independence claim.

Speaking with CNN, Puigdemont said this was an important moment for both sides. “We want a dialogue without preconditions, we have done a gesture with responsibility and generosity,” he said.

“We have listened to the world, especially Europe, and I think it would be very good if the Spanish government also was generous and responsible and listened that this is the moment and the opportunity to open a dialogue without conditions.”

Puigdemont’s remarks to CNN are his first since his much anticipated appearance before the Catalan Parliament Tuesday in Barcelona, when it widely expected that he would unilaterally declare independence for the wealthy northeastern region.

Instead, Puigdemont said he wanted to take the heat out of the political standoff that has roiled Spain since the vote, which was banned by Madrid.

“With the result of the referendum on the first of October, Catalonia has earned the right to be an independent state,” he told delegates. “It has earned the right to be heard and respected.”

But Puigdemont said that parliament should suspend a formal declaration in order to pursue dialogue. He did not specify what form the talks would take, or who would mediate.

Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria on Tuesday dismissed Puigdemont’s actions, saying: “The speech of the President of Catalonia is of someone who doesn’t know where he is going and what he wants to do.”

Puigdemont cannot impose mediation on Madrid, she said.

“Dialogue in democracy is done by the rules and not inventing them as you please,” she told reporters.