French President Nicolas Sarkozy began his first state visit to Spain Monday, but it was his pop star wife Carla Bruni
-Sarkozy who grabbed the spotlight during meetings with the royal family.
Sarkozy is due to hold a summit Tuesday with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, fresh from controversy stirred over disparaging comments about his fellow EU leader attributed to Sarkozy this month.
But at the start of a first day filled with pageantry, as the couple were welcomed by King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia at their Pardo Palace outside of Madrid, all eyes were on Bruni-Sarkozy.
As national anthems were played, Bruni-Sarkozy wore a black dress and a short bolero-type white blouse pleated at the back, black shoes with low heels and her hair loose on her shoulders.
And when meeting Sofia, she kissed the queen on both cheeks, rather than curtsying as she did before Britain's Queen Elizabeth II during a visit to London last year, a moment that was captured in a now famous photograph.
A spokesman for the royal palace explained that a curtsy before a Spanish monarch "is not an absolute obligation, but a habit adopted by some people."
She again kissed Princess Letizia on both cheeks when France's first couple lunched with her and her husband, Crown Prince Felipe, at the Zarazuela Palace.
There, the supermodel-turned-singer-turned-AIDS activist wore a short violet dress and black shoes with low heels, an outfit compared to the raspberry dress and high heels of Princess Letizia.
The Spanish press called the meeting between the two women a "duel of elegance and glamour."
"The interest (in Sarkozy's visit) is multiplied" by the presence "of his wife, the popular singer Carla Bruni
," whose clothes and style will be closely watched, said the newspaper El Mundo in an editorial.
Sarkozy commented on his wife's star turn in the Spanish capital at a gathering at the residence of the French ambassador to Spain.
"I didn't know that an Italian-turned-French woman could represent France so well in Madrid today," he said.
When they meet Tuesday, Sarkozy and Zapatero are expected to emphasise their cooperation in the fight against the armed Basque separatist group ETA, several of whose leaders have been arrested in France over the past year.
The two countries will also sign a accord on internal security aimed in particular at strengthening their joint efforts against organised crime and drug trafficking.
Paris will also voice its support for Spain's presidency of the European Union in the first half of 2010 and its willingness to cooperate with Madrid in the implementation in Europe of recent decisions taken by the Group of 20 nations in London aimed at combating the global economic crisis.
But Paris and Madrid have sought to defuse any possible tension over the recent controversy sparked when Sarkozy reportedly termed the Spanish leader as "not very smart" at a lunch two weeks ago with French lawmakers.
Sarkozy was forced to deny the reports, and Zapatero told a French newspaper last week that he enjoyed a "warm" relationship with Sarkozy.
In a speech to the French community Monday, Sarkozy said relations with Spain have "never been so good," especially in the fight against terrorism.
"On all the issues, France and Spain speak with the same voice, that is the case in the fight against terrorists," he said.