Global Policy Forum

Socialist Victor in Spain Criticizes Bush and Blair


By Elaine Sciolino

New York Times
March 16, 2004

Spain's newly elected Socialist prime minister pledged Monday to break with the policies of his predecessor, signaling that his country would no longer march in lockstep with Washington and would withdraw its troops from Iraq in the absence of a United Nations mandate.

In his first remarks to reporters since his party's defeat of the center-right Popular Party candidate on Sunday, the prime minister-elect, José Luis Rodrí­guez Zapatero, had only scathing criticism for the U.S.-led war in Iraq, which his party opposed, as did 90 percent of the Spanish people, polls show.

‘‘The war has been a disaster, the occupation continues to be a great disaster,'' Zapatero said on the Spanish radio station Cadena SER. ‘‘It hasn't generated anything but more violence and hate. What simply cannot be is that — after it became so clear how badly it was handled — there be no consequences. Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair will have to reflect and engage in some self-criticism, so things like that don't happen again.''

He alluded to assertions by Prime Minister José Marí­a Aznar of Spain, Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain and President George W. Bush that the conflict had been justified by the conviction — still unproved — that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction that posed an imminent threat.

‘‘You can't organize a war on the basis of lies,'' Zapatero said. ‘‘You can't bomb a people just in case.'' In his first news conference later in the day, Zapatero also pledged to repair relations with France and Germany, which were badly damaged when it split with them over the war.

‘‘Spain is going to see eye to eye with Europe again,'' he said. ‘‘Spain is going to be more pro-Europe than ever. I am deeply convinced of that.''

Miguel Moratinos, who is likely to be named foreign minister and until recently was a senior career diplomat, explained in a telephone interview that Spain's foreign policy ‘‘will be addressed with a whole different spirit.''

‘‘We need to engage with the American administration and President Bush in a positive manner but on an equal footing,'' he said.

In the news conference, Zapatero repeated promises to withdraw Spain's troops from Iraq unless they were put under United Nations control by the end of June, when the United States has promised to hand power over to a provisional Iraqi government.

If Spain withdraws its troops, the sixth-largest foreign force in Iraq, it will pose problems not only for the Bush administration but also for Poland. The Spanish contingent had been set to take control July 1 of the 9,000-strong multinational force now patrolling central and southern Iraq under Polish command.

In Washington, the White House said that Bush had congratulated Zapatero and that the men had pledged to work together to fight terrorism. ‘‘The two leaders said they both looked forward to working together, particularly on our shared commit ment to fighting terrorism,'' the chief White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, said. He did not answer reporters' questions about the administration's view on how the Madrid bombings last week might have influenced the Spanish elections.

At his news conference, Zapatero said his government ‘‘is going to be a government that maintains cordial relations with all the governments of the world, and naturally, with the government of the United States.''

Asked at the news conference whether Bush had called to congratulate him, Zapatero was cool.

‘‘I have to confess that the list of congratulations is extremely long and at this moment I haven't been able to look over them all,'' he said. ‘‘And I would run the risk of making a mistake, and I don't want to do that.''

Zapatero's remarks coincided with assertions that Aznar's government had misled the European Union, the United Nations and other governments in initially blaming the Basque separatist organization ETA for last week's terror train attacks and insisting that ETA be condemned in a Security Council resolution, senior European officials said.

The most dramatic public articulation from abroad of the flawed claims, which had been conveyed by Foreign Minister Ana Palacio and other Spanish officials, was the appearance on television by Javier Solana, the European Union's top foreign policy official. In television interviews in English, French and Spanish on Thursday afternoon, the day of the bombings, Solana said it seemed certain that ETA was responsible because of the type of explosives and the tactics used.

Solana's remarks carried extraordinary weight, not only because of his current position, his expertise on terrorism and the universal respect he enjoys, but also because he served as Spain's foreign minister under the last Socialist government. He was also secretary general of NATO.

After the interviews, he received a phone call from Palacio thanking him. Solana, reached by telephone in Madrid as he headed to China, declined to comment on whether the Spanish government had misled him, either intentionally or unintentionally. He called the outcome of the Spanish election ‘‘a sign that a society reacted in a very clear manner in a case in which things were not very transparent.''

But senior European Union officials reached in Brussels said senior Spanish officials had contacted Solana to tell him that while the government could not be absolutely sure that ETA was responsible, all evidence pointed in that direction and that it was important to take that line and make it public. ‘‘He was told by the people who have to know these things that it was ETA,'' one senior official said.

In agreeing to do so, Solana was said to have told his colleagues: ‘‘I am a patriot. I am a Spaniard. I am going to follow my government's line. I have an international responsibility.''

As more information emerged linking the bombings to Islamic terrorists, perhaps Al Qaeda, Solana was said to have felt misled by his own government, the senior official said. Palacio also sent directives to all Spanish embassies urging her country's diplomats to stress the ETA connection, European officials said. ‘‘You should use any opportunity to confirm ETA's responsibility for these brutal attacks, thus helping to dissipate any type of doubt that certain interested parties may want to promote,'' the newspaper El Paí­s quoted Palacio as writing in a memorandum.

Neither Palacio nor other Spanish officials have either confirmed or denied that she sent such a memorandum, but a senior European diplomat said it was authentic. Palacio could not be reached for comment. Before the election, the center-right government had accused the Socialist opposition of waging a smear campaign by suggesting that the government was guilty of a cover-up in withholding intelligence about the investigation.

At the United Nations, diplomats said they were seeking an explanation from the Spanish government about why it insisted only hours after the attack that the Security Council condemn the bombing as the work of ETA, despite the reservations of some nations. The UN resolution was about to be passed when Spain's delegation said it had instructions from Palacio to add a direct condemnation of ETA. Both France and Russia initially resisted.

‘‘It was unusual because no one knew for sure who was responsible,'' said a senior French official reached in Paris. ‘‘After much back and forth the words were added. Under the circumstances, nobody wanted to say no.''

More Information on Iraq
More Information on US Arm-Twisting


FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.