Spanish withdrawal of troops from Irak

Miguel Moratinos, the new Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, was interviewed on Cadena Ser radio this morning about Zapatero’s surprise announcement yesterday that Spanish troops would be pulled out of Iraq as quickly as possible, rather than waiting until June.

Moratinos said this morning that Spain’s new Government had made this decision based on the results of an intensive round of meetings and conversations he and the new Defence Minister, Jose Bono, have had since their party won the Spanish elections last month. Between them they consulted the heads of government of 12 countries about whether a UN handover at the end of June was possible. Moratinos said he also consulted top UN representatives.

All of these conversations led to the same conclusion – ithat is was highly improbable that the UN would be allowed to take military and political control of the transition in Iraq, while the post-war situation there is getting more and more complicated.

Moratinos said that the announcement yesterday was also intended to deliver a political statement to the Spanish people – that the new Government will fulfill its electoral promises. Ever since Aznar decided to actively support the US invasion and occupation of Iraq without consulting Congress and despite the opposition of 90% of the Spanish people, Zapatero promised that if he won the elections this year, he would withdraw the troops. Moratinos said that given the general consensus in the international community that the UN would not be given a leading role in the conflict, there was no point in prolonging the uncertainty about when Spanish troops would return.

Sr. Moratinos confirmed that he spoke yesterday with Colin Powell hours before the announcement was made and that although Powell was disappointed, he said he understood the political nature of the decision. The Spanish Foreign Affairs Minister says he hopes that the decision will not damage Spain’s diplomatic relations with the United States, and he confirmed that he will go ahead with his trip to the USA this week, where he will meet with Powell and Condoleezza Rice, as well as representatives of the US Senate and Congress.

Moratinos rejected accusations that the decision to withdraw troops was a way of giving in to terrorism. He reminded Cadena Ser listeners that the original justification for military action presented to the Spanish public by Aznar was that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction which represented a threat to world peace and had to be found and destroyed.

The invasion was never put forward as an answer to terrorism. Since the invasion took place, no weapons of mass destruction have been found, and the international terrorism situation has worsened.

Moratinos said that the new Socialist Government would take a firm stance against national and international terrorism, and that the Spanish Government would continue to collaborate with other countries in looking for ways to solve the crisis in Iraq, and that any solution which respected international law and involved UN leadership would have Spain’s full support.

The Government has announced that the new Defence Minister, Jose Bono, will hold a press conference this afternoon after the Cabinet of Ministers has held its first meeting, to further explain the Spanish withdrawal from Iraq, and Zapatero has called for an extraordinary parliamentary session tomorrow so that he can explain his decision before congress. A debate will be held afterwards, so that all parties can express their opinion. Yesterday all political parties represented in the Spanish parliament, with the exception of the Popular Party, confirmed their support for the immediate withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq. Mariano Rajoy, the leader of the PP, strongly criticised the move.