Argentina's Milei irritates Spain again with plans for visit

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MADRID (Reuters) - Spain's Foreign Ministry expressed strong disapproval on Thursday at what it called Argentine President Javier Milei's "deviation from expected diplomatic norms" in deciding to shun top government officials during a planned visit this week.

Milei is due to land on Friday at Torrejon de Ardoz air force base, amid a simmering diplomatic spat between Madrid and Buenos Aires over remarks he made last month.

Milei will receive an award at the Juan de Mariana Institute, a libertarian think tank. He will also collect a medal from Madrid's conservative regional leader Isabel Diaz Ayuso, a staunch opponent of Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.

No meetings with head of state King Felipe VI, Sanchez or Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares are on the agenda.

"It is surprising and anomalous that a foreign president does not request, in any of his first visits to Spain, an institutional meeting with his counterpart, as all heads of state in the world do," the ministry said in a statement.

"This highlights a deviation from expected diplomatic norms and suggests a lack of priority on formal state relations," it added. It expressed hope that Milei would respect Spanish institutions on this visit, refrain from gestures seen as rude in Madrid and align his actions with "the historical and fraternal bond between the two countries".

Thursday was a public holiday in Argentina and there was no immediate response from the embassy to a request for comment.

El Pais newspaper reported that Milei had requested to meet with Felipe, but the Royal Palace would not grant it. The Palace said only that no such meeting was on the king's agenda, adding that the Foreign Ministry coordinates official visits.

During his first visit to Spain last month, Milei also declined to have any meetings with top officials. During a speech at a far-right rally in Madrid during that trip, Milei called Sanchez's wife Begona Gomez "corrupt" and described Socialism as "cursed and carcinogenic".

Gomez is under a preliminary investigation of possible influence peddling and corruption. She and her husband have denied any wrongdoing.

Sanchez heads the Spanish Socialist Party.

Spain permanently recalled its ambassador from Buenos Aires two days later when Milei refused to apologise, instead calling Sanchez "arrogant" and "totalitarian".

Argentina has kept its ambassador in Madrid.

Milei, a libertarian and former TV pundit who took office last December, relishes taking maverick positions and making theatrical gestures.

Asked in an interview earlier this week about his coming trip to Madrid, Milei called Sanchez a "coward" and compared him to Venezuela's authoritarian President Nicolas Maduro.

(Reporting by Belén Carreño and Inti Landauro; Editing by Andrei Khalip and Frances Kerry)