The Spanish cabinet was meeting on Wednesday to decide its response to Catalan moves to declare independence, but the prospect of dialogue to ease Spain's worst political crisis in four decades already seemed remote.
The fraught situation became even more confused on Tuesday night when Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont made a symbolic declaration of independence from Spain but then immediately suspended it to allow for talks with the Madrid government.
Such a declaration had been widely expected after the Catalan government said 90 percent of Catalans voted for a breakaway in an Oct. 1 referendum that Spain had declared illegal and which most opponents of independence boycotted.
But Spain responded angrily to Puigdemont's speech, saying the Catalan government could not act on the results of the referendum.
"Neither Mr. Puigdemont nor anyone else can claim, without returning to legality and democracy, to impose mediation... Dialogue between democrats takes place within the law," Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said on Tuesday.