BARCELONA, Spain — It was a declaration of independence — but it came with an asterisk.
Defying the central government in Madrid and much of the international community, Catalan separatists on Tuesday signed a document announcing their intention to secede from Spain. But Catalan President Carles Puigdemont said he would not exercise the mandate right away, proposing a waiting period of “a few weeks” to see if an amicable divorce with Madrid can be worked out.
But there was little sign that Mr. Puigdemont’s move, building on a landslide pro-independence vote in a disputed Oct. 1 referendum, had managed to soothe angry federal officials. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called an emergency Cabinet meeting for Wednesday with no sign that Madrid was willing to discuss letting the country’s richest region break away.
Mr. Puigdemont “doesn’t know where he is, where he is going and with whom he wants to go,” Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria told reporters in Madrid after the delay was announced.
With some Catalonian independence activists grumbling about Mr. Puigdemont’s surprise move, the Catalan leader asked the regional parliament in Barcelona to “suspend the effects of the independence declaration to commence a dialogue, not only for reducing tension but for reaching an accord on a solution to go forward with the demands of the Catalan people.”
“We have to listen to the voices that have asked us to give a chance for dialogue with the Spanish state,” Mr. Puigdemont said.