"A full declaration of independence would have been very problematic, would have led to obvious confrontation with Madrid and he [Catalan President Carles Puigdemont] was under enormous pressure not to declare independence, including I assume from the countries that Catalonia would look to for recognition", he said.
If independence had been declared, said Sánchez, then the PSOE would back the actions of the Spanish government.
"These were exact words of Puigdemont yesterday in Parlament: "[.]" And with same solemnity, Government and myself propose that Parliament suspend effects of Declaration of Independence so that in coming weeks we will undertake a dialogue without which it is not possible to reach an agreed solution.
Spanish authorities gave Catalonia's separatist leader five days to explain whether his ambiguous statement on secession was a formal declaration of independence and warned Wednesday that his answer dictated whether they would apply never-used constitutional powers to curtail the region's autonomy. Spain's recent financial crisis and the harsh austerity measures that followed generated more support for secession.
"We can not accept that a portion of the Catalans decide for the whole of Spain", he said.
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Here is the status of the standoff between the affluent, industrial region of Catalonia and the central Spanish government in Madrid.
Lawyers, civil society groups and politicians in Catalonia and elsewhere in Spain have offered to mediate between the two sides, but the prime minister rejected the offers. "The Catalan separatist leader was very clear about asking for dialogue".
"This call - ahead of any of the measures that the government may adopt under Article 155 of our constitution - seeks to offer citizens the clarity and security that a question of such importance requires", Rajoy said.
Catalonia is one of Spain's wealthiest regions but a stream of companies has announced plans to move head offices out of the province in response to the crisis.
The Catalan crisis is Spain's most serious political emergency since its return to democracy four decades ago.
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About 2.3 million Catalans - or 43 percent of the electorate in the northeastern region - voted in the independence referendum.
Rajoy's government previously had refused to grant Catalonia permission to hold a referendum on the grounds that it would only poll a portion of Spain's 46 million residents and was therefore unconstitutional.
In an interview with German newspaper Die Welt, Mr Rajoy said that Spain will not be divided.
The leader of the opposition Socialist Party, Pedro Sanchez, backed Rajoy's demand for clarification in order to "get out of the swamp".
The stakes are high - losing Catalonia, which has its own language and culture, would deprive Spain of a fifth of its economic output and more than a quarter of exports.
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Asked about the possibility of organise another referendum in Catalonia, Dastis said that Spain's constitution does not allow it.