Catalan leader ready for dialogue with Spain 'without preconditions'

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(CNN) — 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 before deciding how to proceed.

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

"The council of ministers has agreed to require formally the government of Catalonia to confirm if they have declared the declaration of independence, in spite of the confusion generated by the suspension," Rajoy said.

"This requirement prior to any measures the government may adopt under article 155 of our constitution, seeks to offer citizens the clarity and security that such an important issue requires."

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

Puigdemont: Politics, not police

Speaking with CNN, Puigdemont said the government in Madrid had no reason to apply Article 155 of the constitution to Catalonia and that to do so would be a mistake.

He also rejected any suggestion that he should be arrested for his actions, saying he was not a criminal. "My arrest would be unjustified and a mistake; this is not the moment to send people with whom you have political discrepancies to prison."

Puigdemont said it was an important time for both sides to enter into dialogue.

"We are at a point where the most important thing that there is no previous condition to sit down and talk, to accept that we have to talk, we need to talk in the right conditions," he said.

"Maybe, it could help (us) to talk if two people representing the Spanish government and two people representing the Catalan government just simply agree on one thing, for instance, naming a mediator."

Asked if he was concerned that he is dividing the people of Spain, Puigdemont blamed the turmoil on the state's response. "Yesterday I tried to send a message of calmness and to remind people that we are facing a political problem that we need to solve with politics and not with police," he said.

Hundreds of people were injured in Catalonia on October 1 as Spanish national police sought to prevent the referendum going ahead.

Puigdemont: 'Right to be respected'

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 October 1, 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."

Foreign Minister: 'Fake news'

Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis was also heavily critical of Puigdemont and the Catalan government in remarks to the Spanish Congress on Wednesday, accusing them of spreading propaganda and "lies."

Earlier, he told Europe 1 radio, a French station, that the Spanish government was "ready to talk with everyone but within the framework offered by our constitution and the rule of law."

Asked about Puigdemont's Tuesday declaration, Dastis said: "I interpreted it as a trick, frankly."

Spanish Socialist opposition leader Pedro Sanchez echoed Rajoy's call for clarity from the Catalan government, saying neither Catalans nor the rest of the nation should be left in a state of uncertainty.

Speaking at his party's headquarters, he said Rajoy had agreed to open a process of constitutional reform in Spain but that this was unconnected to events in Catalonia. "We consider that the best way to defend the constitution is to reform it," he said.

This story was first published on CNN.com "Catalan leader ready for dialogue with Spain 'without preconditions'."