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Bush Thanks Spain for Arresting al-Qaida Suspects


President Bush Wednesday thanked Spain for arresting suspected members of the al-Qaida terrorist group as Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar visited the White House.

When he asked world leaders to join the United States in bringing terrorists to justice, Mr. Bush says Spain's Prime Minister, who is also president of the parliament, was one of the first to respond.

"Recently, Spain has arrested al-Qaida members and has shared information about those al-Qaida members, and it's incredibly helpful," said President Bush, who told the Spanish leader "the American people are very grateful."

The United States has not asked Spain to extradite those 14 suspects. While Prime Minister Aznar said he would consider that request if it is made, he is facing opposition within his government because those extradited could face a U.S. military tribunal instead of a civilian court.

Prime Minister Aznar said any action on extradition will be taken with full respect of Spanish and U.S. law. He said his government is also working on the issue at the European Union level where the European Convention on Human Rights prohibits the extradition of people who could face the death penalty as those suspects could in the United States.

U.S. officials routinely get around European extradition restrictions by giving assurances that those suspects will not be executed. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer would not say whether the Bush administration will give Spain those assurances, but he did say the United States has no objection to the suspected terrorists being tried in Spain. President Bush thanked Prime Minister Aznar for his support in the war against terrorism and vowed to help Spain deal with its own terrorist threats, which include the Basque separatist group ETA.

"In our meeting today, I assured the [Spanish] president that our nation would help Spain in any way possible to fight terror, and Mr. President, you have got that assurance," Mr. Bush told his Spanish guest.

Spain has offered the United States use of its air space and military bases including 13 transport planes to help carry humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. Mr. Aznar promised more cooperation and intelligence sharing with the United States, including military forces if necessary.

Prime Minister Aznar said Spain supports all U.S. efforts to track down, eradicate, and eliminate terrorism wherever it may be worldwide. He said the fight against terrorism is a shared battle for the same ideas and the same freedoms. The only fate that awaits terrorists is defeat, Prime Minister Aznar said, and the only option for terrorists is to bring them to justice.

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