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Spain FM: Iraqi Pullout Not a Retreat From Fight Against Terrorism - 2004-04-22

Spain's foreign minister says his country's decision to withdraw troops from Iraq in no way signals a retreat from the larger war on terrorism. The foreign minister met with officials of the Bush administration Wednesday in Washington.

Miguel Angel Moratino's just-concluded visit to Washington was widely viewed as an attempt by Spain to soothe strained relations with the United States after Spain's newly-installed prime minister ordered the prompt return of his country's 1,300 troops from Iraq.

The foreign minister spoke with reporters after meeting with Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security advisor Condoleezza Rice.

"I expressed to my [U.S.] counterparts the full commitment of the Spanish government to fight terrorism in anyplace, anywhere, with the same determination, even more than ever, because Spain has suffered a terrible blow like the United States on the 11th of March," he said.

Mr. Moratinos indicated that Secretary Powell and Ms. Rice expressed disappointment with Spain's decision to withdraw troops from Iraq. But he stressed that a strong friendship and a strong alliance endures between the two countries.

The foreign minister added that Spain will continue to work for democracy in Iraq, but prefers to do so through the United Nations.

"Spain will support any initiative to really consolidate this commitment for a free and democratic Iraq. And for that we will be a very constructive partner in the U.N.," he said.

Mr. Moratinos said, aside from Iraq, there are many areas where Spain and the United States can cooperate, particularly in Afghanistan. "Afghanistan is a specific area where Spain wants to really show its commitment in the fight against terrorism. It is the area where [Osama] bin Laden and al-Qaida is much more concentrated, and for that reason we are absolutely in the same spirit as the United States that some kind of new effort should be done [to root out terrorists]," he said.

Even before taking power, Spain's new socialist Prime Minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, pledged to withdraw troops from Iraq unless the United Nations assumed control of coalition efforts. Foreign Minister Moratinos said, should a greater role for the United Nations be established in Iraq in the months ahead, his government would be willing to revisit the question of Spanish troop deployments.