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US Expresses Regret Over 'Abrupt' Spanish Troop Withdrawal from Iraq - 2004-04-19


The Bush administration did little Monday to conceal its irritation over the new Spanish government's decision to make a swift withdrawal of its 1,300-member troop contingent from Iraq. The White House said it regretted the "abrupt" action.

The pullout was a foregone conclusion since it had been a campaign pledge of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, whose Socialist Party swept the government of Jose Maria Aznar - a close ally of the U.S. administration - out of power last month.

But Mr. Zapatero's announcement Sunday that he wanted the Spanish troops to return home as quickly as possible appeared to surprise U.S. officials, who want the withdrawal to be gradual enough so as not to impair coalition operations.

The Spanish prime minister telephoned President Bush to discuss his plans, and according to White House spokeman Scott McClellan, Mr. Bush expressed regret over the decision to "abruptly" announce with withdrawal.

The spokesman said in the five-minute conversation, Mr. Bush stressed the importance of carefully considering future actions in order to "avoid giving false comfort to terrorists or enemies of freedom in Iraq."

There were similar comments from State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, who noted that Spain had said earlier it might stay in the Iraq coalition if there was a new U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing peacekeeping operations after the June 30 transfer of sovereignty to an Iraqi interim government.

"I think we were surprised a little bit by the abruptness of the announcement," he said. "We regret that they made such an abrupt announcement of their decision to withdraw. As you know the president talked to Prime Minister Zapatero today. And certainly we hope that the government of Spain will withdraw its troops in a coordinated fashion, in an orderly manner that permits the close coordination with other coalition forces so that there is not a deficit of any kind on the ground."

Mr. Boucher said despite the withdrawal, the United States believes that Spain is committed to fighting the war on terrorism, and recognizes the "many commitments" that Spain has made in that regard.

He also said he did not think that the Spanish move had sent "any particular message" to other members of the coalition and said that many other countries, including Britain, Japan, South Korea and Portugal, had reaffirmed their commitment to remaining in the Iraq operation.

Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos is expected to discuss the issue in detail in Washington talks Wednesday with Secretary of State Colin Powell and White House National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

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