» Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Spain/Iraq/War on Terror

Asked if the Prime Minister had urged the Prime Minister-elect of Spain, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, not to pull Spanish troops out of Iraq, the PMOS said that as we had told journalists yesterday, we had no intention of briefing on the detail of the telephone call between the Prime Minister and Mr Zapatero. They had had a wide-ranging discussion and a warm and friendly conversation. Given the fact that Mr Zapatero’s view had formed part of his election manifesto, his words yesterday should have come as no surprise. However, it was important to look exactly, and fully, at what he had said, rather than base assumptions on partial reports. He had said, “If there is no change by virtue of which the UN takes charge of the situation and the occupiers give up the political leadership, the Spanish troops will come home, and the deadline for their presence there is 30 June”. Obviously it wasn’t for us to analyse the statements given by the incoming Spanish Government. Any decisions were obviously for them. However, it should be pointed out that a plan was already in place to hand over power to a transitional government at the beginning of July. The new transitional Administrative Law, which had been signed last week, had clearly been an important step forward. Asked if he was indicating that there was a strong possibility that Spain might decide not to withdraw its troops from Iraq, the PMOS said he was simply making the point that Mr Zapatero’s statement obviously had some qualifications built into it. It was not for us to predict the decision-making processes of the Spanish Government. All he was pointing out was that Mr Zapatero had been highlighting the importance of the UN and also the importance of the ‘occupiers’ – the Coalition – in giving up political leadership. The timetable for the handover of power was the beginning of July. In the end, these were decisions for the Spanish Government to take and we would respect whatever judgements they made.

Asked if Mr Zapatero’s assertion that the Iraq war had been based on lies would damage Spain’s diplomatic relationship with the UK, the PMOS pointed out that, over the years, the Prime Minister had shown an ability to forge alliances across political boundaries. Obviously the UK and the incoming Spanish Government had a difference of view in relation to the Iraq conflict. Nevertheless, it was important to recognise that the new Spanish Administration hailed from the same political tradition as this Government and the Prime Minister was looking forward to developing a good and effective working relationship with them. In answer to further questions, the PMOS drew journalists’ attention to the fact that the first thing the Prime Minister-elect of Spain had done after winning the election had been to underline his Government’s resolve in tackling terror. As the Prime Minister had said consistently for many years, the only way we would defeat terrorism was through strength. Al Qaida was an organisation whose hatred for the West and whose belief in Muslim fundamentalism was absolute. They were not going to ignore us if we simply left them alone. The threat from terrorism had been real for some years. It had existed before the Iraq conflict and before September 11. It remained real today. We would be looking to work with our European partners and our other international allies to tackle this global menace. We had to confront it and defeat it.

Asked if the Prime Minister was concerned that Spain would ally itself more closely with France and Germany and that the UK would become more isolated, the PMOS pointed out that it wasn’t so long ago that people had been commenting on the fact that the Prime Minister had participated in a trilateral meeting with President Chirac and Chancellor Schroeder. It was important for people to be realistic. There were obviously going to be some issues on which European leaders would disagree. Iraq was clearly an example. However, on Europe more generally, it was important to recognise that the UK was at the centre of important discussions about economic reform, for example. The fact that in the last two weeks the Prime Minister had met with President Chirac, Chancellor Schroeder, Prime Minister Berlsuconi, Prime Minister Balkenende and Prime Minister Rasmussen was an indication that he took his relationships in Europe seriously and that our alliances remained strong.

Asked the Prime Minister’s reaction to polls suggesting that more people thought the Iraq war was illegal than legal and that his personal satisfaction rating had fallen, the PMOS noted that the survey had also contained positive elements which equally could have been flagged up in the question. The view of the Iraqi people underlined what we had been saying for some time. We had never pretended that everything was perfect in Iraq. Far from it. Some appalling atrocities had been carried out by terrorists and remnants of Saddam’s regime. However, that should not obscure the quiet progress and transformation in the lives of ordinary Iraqi citizens who were facing the future with more confidence than ever before. The terrorists inside Iraq were clearly attempting to target that progress and confidence. That was precisely what the violence was about in Iraq at the moment. We could not – and would not – let them win. In relation to the surveys that had been carried out, people were obviously entitled to disagree with the Prime Minister’s judgement regarding the Iraq war. However, there had been a number of inquiries, all of which had, in one or another, addressed the issue of integrity. We hoped that people would look carefully at those findings.

Briefing took place at 11:00 | Search for related news


  1. That was an interesting finish to his statement:

    "However, there had been a number of inquiries, all of which had, in one or another, addressed the issue of integrity."

    Contrast this with Chapter 1, Paragraph 9 of Hutton’s report:

    "There has been a great deal of controversy and debate whether the intelligence in relation to weapons of mass destruction set out in the dossier published by the Government on 24 September 2002 was of sufficient strength and reliability to justify the Government in deciding that Iraq under Saddam Hussein posed such a threat to the safety and interests of the United Kingdom that military action should be taken against that country. This controversy and debate has continued because of the failure, up to the time of writing this report, to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. I gave careful consideration to the view expressed by a number of public figures and commentators that my terms of reference required or, at least, entitled me to consider this issue. However I concluded that a question of such wide import, which would involve the consideration of a wide range of evidence, is not one which falls within my terms of reference."

    Downing Street are trying to have it both ways.

    Comment by Colin Williams — 17 Mar 2004 on 5:32 pm | Link
  2. No surprise that No 10 has replaced one clever-clever slime-mouth with another. What is depressing is that the ‘lobby’ let them get off so lightly. Is it ‘shock and awe’, lick-spittling, cynicism, simple laziness or are they out-gunned by a better dissembling wordsmith than themselves?

    MI-5 and the Met have led the way with their excuses – a bloody massacre of hundreds packed like sardines in late and filthy trains is ‘only a matter of time’, and the press are dutifully passing this on to innure us to the ‘inevitable’ bloodshed.

    Where are the leading stories of totally unprepared tube stations, the dearth of emergency beds, blood shortages, lack of breathing apparatus, bio-hazard suits etc etc? Are we saving these for later ‘special editions’?

    Will someone please smash a hole in this complacency. Plain clothed officers on the trains – was that a joke? How many people would (sorry Tony, will) eleven bombs in the rush hour tube kill and maim? Has anyone asked Number Ten? Are we really ready for this?

    Comment by cannon fodder — 18 Mar 2004 on 11:33 am | Link

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