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Aznar in plea to US over Iraq arms

4 February 2004

WASHINGTON – Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar urged US lawmakers on Wednesday not to “misjudge the real debate” concerning the danger weapons of mass destruction pose and reiterated his country’s commitment to the war against international terrorism.

Aznar, who backed President Bush on the war in Iraq, addressed a joint session of Congress presided over by Vice President Dick Cheney and attended by Secretary of State Colin Powell, among others.

In a 25-minute speech that was interrupted 23 times by applause, Aznar said the most important phase of the war against terrorism is now taking place in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Efforts to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is a factor in the quest for a more stable and secure world, added the Spanish leader, who emphasised that “recent progress in the fight against the proliferation of these weapons would not have been possible had it not been for the firm stance we’ve taken.”

The threat posed by proliferation of these weapons “is real,” he said, adding, “we cannot stand by and do nothing” about the risk that they could fall into the hands of terrorist groups.

“We must confront this challenge jointly and firmly. Closing our eyes to this reality, misjudging the real discussion and the definition of the actual priorities would be a serious irresponsibility for which we would have to pay dearly with our security and freedom,” he said.

Aznar’s speech to Congress came on the heels of President George W Bush’s call for an independent investigation into intelligence reports regarding the existence of WMD in Iraq.

It also followed the move by British prime minister to have an inquiry into the issue.

Opposition parties in Spain have called for an investigation, but Aznar’s government has rejected this demand.

Aznar told lawmakers that Spain has an “unswerving” commitment to freedom and a “solemn commitment” to the United States in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

The Spanish leader also touted the value of the Atlantic alliance, not only for Europe and the United States, but for global security and stability.

This bond “is in the origin of the construction of (modern) Europe, is part of its development and must be present in its future.”

“I don’t want an alternative to the Atlantic relationship, and desiring a strong European Union does not mean working for a counterweight to the United States, but working for an Atlanticist Europe,” Aznar insisted.

The prime minister said such a relationship would be incomplete without Latin America, a region which he praised for its efforts to consolidate democracy and free market economies.

He also referred to communist-ruled Cuba, calling it “one of the last historic anomalies,” which he was confident would “soon, very soon, be welcomed into the community of free nations.”

The prime minister’s wife, as well as Foreign Minister Ana Palacio and several groups of Spanish students were among those seated in the packed House gallery during the leader’s speech.

British Prime Minister Blair, another strong Bush ally, addressed a joint session of Congress last year.

[Copyright EFE with Expatica]

Subject: Spanish news