[A-List] Spain: back to Europe, pressure on Blair
michael.keaney at mbs.fi
Wed Mar 17 01:44:56 MST 2004
Spain's PM ups pressure on Blair: 'You can't organise a war with lies'
By Elizabeth Nash in Madrid and Ben Russell
The Independent, 16 March 2004
Spain's incoming Socialist Prime Minister, José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the
unexpected victor in Sunday's general election, launched a withering attack
on Tony Blair and George Bush yesterday over their decision to go to war in
Announcing that the 1,300 Spanish troops currently stationed in Iraq would
be pulled out by the summer, the quietly spoken leader declared: "You can't
organise a war with lies.
"Mr Blair and Mr Bush must do some reflection and self-criticism," he added
in remarkably frank comments for the next prime minister of Europe's
youngest democracy and fifth largest economy.
Mr Zapatero was speaking a day after his Socialist Workers' Party's surprise
election victory over the ruling Popular Party, which under the leadership
of Jose Maria Aznar had strongly supported the war in Iraq.
He told Spanish radio his triumph was a consequence of the conflict's
unpopularity with voters. But a more immediate explanation for the swing was
last Thursday's bomb attacks on Madrid which left 200 people dead. The
Government initially attempted to blame the Basque separatist group, Eta,
for the atrocity. When it became apparent that groups affiliated to
al-Qa'ida were almost certainly responsible, many Spaniards used the ballot
to vent their anger at the Government's support for the war, which they
blamed for making the country a target of Islamic terrorists.
In another blow to the British Government, Mr Zapatero also promised to
relaunch his country's policy of co-operation with Europe, turning his back
on Mr Blair's attempt to establish an alternative sphere of influence in the
"Military intervention in Iraq was a political mistake," Mr Zapatero said
yesterday. "It divided more than it united, there were no reasons for it.
Time has shown that the arguments for it lacked credibility. You cannot bomb
Downing Street and the White House avoided commenting on Mr Zapatero's
attacks, focusing instead in the need to co-operate against terrorism.
President Bush placed a congratulatory call, expressing hope that the two
countries would still co-operate on fighting terrorism, while avoiding the
decision to withdraw Spanish forces from Iraq. Mr Blair's spokesman said the
Spanish people's decision would be respected. The two leaders are not
expected to meet for more than a month an extraordinary delay in the
context of the political alliance and close friendship forged between Mr
Aznar and Mr Blair. Mr Blair and Mr Zapatero spoke by telephone yesterday in
what the spokesman said was a "warm and friendly" conversation.
"It was a wide discussion but I'm not going to go over the detail of it,"
the spokesman said. "Mr Zapatero said his number one priority is fighting
terrorism and there we agree."
But fallout from the Spanish election has emboldened Mr Blair's critics at
home. Yesterday, he was accused of having increased the threat to Britain
from militant Islamic terrorism by attacking Iraq.
Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader, and Robin Cook, the former
foreign secretary, joined a string of Labour MPs in challenging Mr Blair's
judgement and warning that Britain faced a heightened risk of attacks from
Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, said the war had not increased the
threats facing Britain. "I do not believe we are less safe as a result of
the action that we have taken," Mr Straw said. "And I believe that over the
medium term, still more the long term, we will be much safer." He told the
BBC: "No one should get the idea that somehow if you were a country which
was opposed to the military action in Iraq, you are less of a target for
al-Qa'ida and these terrible Islamic fanatics. Not at all."
But fresh fears about security in Britain were raised when it emerged that
suspicious packages had been sent to four "diplomatic premises" in London
yesterday although last night it appeared the packages did not contain
The Socialists are expected to take office in Spain in about a month's time,
after overseas votes are counted, legislators take their seats in parliament
and Mr Zapatero receives the approval of King Juan Carlos to form a
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