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Election Outcome Will Not Affect Spain's Commitment to Fight Terrorism, says Powell - 2004-03-15

Secretary of State Colin Powell says he does not think the defeat of Spain's pro-U.S. Popular Party in Sunday's elections will mean any lessening of that country's commitment to fight terrorism. The winning Socialists had made Spain's contribution of 1,300 troops to Iraq an election issue.

Mr. Powell says he has not been able to fully analyze the Spanish election results and whether last Thursday's devastating terrorist attacks in the Madrid area had anything to do with the outcome.

But in a talk with reporters enroute to New Delhi, the Secretary said he did not believe the outcome would undercut that country's role in combating terrorism:

"Terrorism has to be defeated, and I don't think the Spanish people are any more inclined to give any encouragement to terrorists, or to give terrorists the slightest impression that they are not going to be engaged fully by the Spanish government, no matter who is Prime Minister or what party has formed the leading coalition," said Mr. Powell. "Spain has been beset by terrorists for many decades and they have been fighting terrorism long before it got on the international screen with 9/11."

The Bush administration had forged close ties with the Popular Party government of outgoing Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, and his successor as party leader Mariano Rajoy had pledged to adhere to Mr. Aznar's policies, including keeping Spain's 1,300 troops in Iraq.

Socialist leader Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero by contrast criticized the troop presence and pledged to withdraw them by summer unless there was a new United Nations mandate.

In his airborne talk with reporters, Mr. Powell said he would await the post-election position of the new Spanish government, but said a new U.N. Security Council resolution has been under consideration of some time.

He said the circumstances in Iraq will be "fundamentally changed" with the official end of the U.S.-led occupation June 30 and the handover of sovereignty to an interim Iraqi administration, and that it may be "quite appropriate" to update the existing mandate under Resolution 15-11.

He said the United States is working with the Iraqi Governing Council and the United Nations to structure a "proper" role for the U.N. after the transfer, though the matter is not completely resolved.