The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY PAMELA ROLFE AND JAMES MCAULEY McAuley re­ported from Paris.

prime min­is­ter asked the leader of the se­ces­sion-minded Cat­alo­nia re­gion to clar­ify his po­si­tion on in­de­pen­dence.

madrid — Spain’s prime min­is­ter on Wednesday asked the head of the se­ces­sion-minded Cat­alo­nia re­gion the ques­tion that no one can seem to an­swer: Did he de­clare in­de­pen­dence or not?

The query re­flected more than just con­fu­sion. Clar­ity on Cat­alo­nia’s po­si­tion is crit­i­cal for Spain to map out its next move — in­clud­ing pos­si­ble harsh mea­sures against Cat­alo­nia if it pro­claims it­self a sovereign na­tion.

The un­cer­tainty comes after the re­gion’s pres­i­dent, Car­les Puigde­mont, told the Cata­lan Par­lia­ment in Barcelona on Tues­day that Cat­alo­nia had the right to be an in­de­pen­dent coun­try, cit­ing a dis­puted ref­er­en­dum last week that showed strong sup­port for se­ces­sion from Spain.

But in­stead of an out­right dec­la­ra­tion, Puigde­mont said the “ef­fect” of in­de­pen­dence would be de­layed for sev­eral weeks to fa­cil­i­tate fur­ther di­a­logue with Madrid. He then signed a doc­u­ment that some per­ceived as for­mal­iz­ing a break from Spain, baf­fling ob­servers in Barcelona and Madrid alike.

On Wednesday, Span­ish Prime Min­is­ter Mar­i­ano Ra­joy ac­cused Puigde­mont of sow­ing “de­lib­er­ate con­fu­sion.” He also asked the Cata­lan leader to clar­ify his po­si­tion.

“This call — be­fore any of the mea­sures that the gov­ern­ment may adopt un­der Article 155 of our con­sti­tu­tion — seeks to of­fer citi- zens the clar­ity and se­cu­rity that a ques­tion of such im­por­tance re­quires,” Ra­joy said in a speech.

Article 155 of Spain’s con­sti­tu­tion, known as the “nu­clear op­tion,” al­lows Madrid to sus­pend Cat­alo­nia’s de­volved gov­ern­ment and take over run­ning the re­gion should it de­clare in­de­pen­dence.

On Wednesday, the Span­ish gov­ern­ment ap­peared to close the door on any of­fer of ne­go­ti­a­tion but no­tably did not pro­ceed with ac­ti­vat­ing Article 155.

“I am a firm sup­porter of di­a­logue, but I should ad­vise that it is not pos­si­ble un­der the guise of di­a­logue to ac­cept the uni­lat­eral im­po­si­tion of points of view,” Ra­joy said in his speech. “There is no pos­si­ble me­di­a­tion be­tween demo­cratic law and dis­obe­di­ence and il­le­gal­ity. We are not talk­ing about dif­fer­ent in­ter­pre­ta­tions of the law.”

Spain’s Con­sti­tu­tional Court had ruled the in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum il­le­gal, but Cata­lan au­thor­i­ties pro­ceeded any­way. In the end, the vast ma­jor­ity of those who par­tic­i­pated in the vote backed se­ces­sion, but fewer than 50 per­cent of Cata­lan res­i­dents cast bal­lots.

The re­cent call for Cata­lan in­de­pen­dence rep­re­sents the big­gest con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis in Spain since the regime of dic­ta­tor Fran­cisco Franco ended in 1975. It also high­lights a ris­ing sep­a­ratist tide in a trou­bled Euro­pean Union strug­gling to nav­i­gate a his­toric mi­grant cri­sis and con­tin­ued eco- nomic malaise.

In his ex­tended ad­dress to the Span­ish par­lia­ment, Ra­joy re­it­er­ated that the Oct. 1 Cata­lan ref­er­en­dum was il­le­gal.

“Vot­ing is a part of democ­racy, but a vote against democ­racy or out­side a democ­racy is not democ­racy,” he said. “The farce that took place Oc­to­ber 1 was not democ­racy. It was an ex­er­cise against democ­racy.”

In re­sponse to Puigde­mont’s re­quest for “di­a­logue,” Ra­joy was firm that Spain would not dis­cuss op­tions out­side the le­gal pa­ram­e­ters of its con­sti­tu­tion.

“With­out a doubt, you can di­a­logue in a sit­u­a­tion like this, to im­prove the frame­work of liv­ing to­gether, but within the frame­work of the ex­ist­ing con­di­tions,” he said. “Never in its his­tory have Cat­alo­nia’s cit­i­zens had more free­dom. The in­de­pen­dence move­ment is about to throw away the best pe­riod of Cat­alo­nia in its en­tire his­tory.”

It was not clear whether or when Puigde­mont would re­spond to Ra­joy.

Puigde­mont has un­til Mon­day to clar­ify his po­si­tion, ac­cord­ing to the Span­ish gov­ern­ment’s for­mal re­quest to the regional leader. If he de­clines to an­swer or says that he has de­clared in­de­pen­dence, the Span­ish gov­ern­ment will give him un­til Oct. 19 to re­think his po­si­tion and re­turn Cat­alo­nia to the rule of law. If that ma­neu­ver fails, Ra­joy in­tends to start the nec­es­sary pro­ce­dures to ac­ti­vate Article 155.

Cata­lan au­thor­i­ties said, how­ever, that in­de­pen­dence was in­evitable and that it was up to Madrid to ne­go­ti­ate the best pos­si­ble deal.

Josep Rull, the Cata­lan gov­ern­ment’s sec­re­tary of ter­ri­tory and sus­tain­abil­ity, told re­porters, “It’s not time to ask ques­tions, but to give an­swers.”

Like­wise, in an in­ter­view on Span­ish ra­dio, Jordi Tu­rull, a mem­ber of the Cata­lan Par­lia­ment, said the di­a­logue that Puigde­mont seeks is about how — not whether — to sep­a­rate from Spain.

“We want to talk about Cata­lan in­de­pen­dence,” Tu­rull said. “Our com­mit­ment is ir­refutable. We don’t want to trick any­one. We want to see if it’s pos­si­ble to do it in a di­a­logued and agreed-upon way, to see what the state pro­poses for Cat­alo­nia.”

In Madrid, how­ever, the only con­sen­sus was that an in­de­pen­dent Cat­alo­nia would never come to pass. Even lead­ing mem­bers of the op­po­si­tion joined ranks with Ra­joy to con­demn the push for se­ces­sion.

“We can­not ac­cept uni­lat­eral dec­la­ra­tions. We are not going to ac­cept that any­one breaks the law,” said Margarita Robles, a leader of the Span­ish So­cial­ist Work­ers’ Party, the prin­ci­pal op­po­si­tion party. “And that is why we have asked the [Cata­lan] gov­ern­ment to re­turn to the con­sti­tu­tional frame­work. In this con­sti­tu­tional frame­work we all fit.”

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