20 April 2004
MADRID – José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Spain’s new prime minister, is to explain his decision to withdraw troops from Iraq to parliament, officials said Tuesday.
Zapatero is to give a full account of the withdrawal, which is expected to be completed within two months, next Tuesday.
It will be Zapatero’s first formal appearance as prime minister.
The move came after US president George Bush rebuked Zapatero for going ahead with his election promise to withdraw troops from the coalition in Iraq.
Bush voiced regret at the “abrupt Spanish action” in a five-minute phone call to Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the White House said.
Bush warned against giving “false comfort to terrorists” as Spain sought to reassure its allies.
The move by Spain was followed by other countries deciding to withdraw troops.
The president of Honduras ordered his 370-strong contingent home too.
President Ricardo Maduro announced he was withdrawing his troops “in the shortest possible time”.
Spain’s new Foreign Minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos, started a diplomatic tour Tuesday to reassure Spanish allies in Iraq that they would not be left in the lurch.
The country’s 1,300 soldiers currently play a key role in the country, especially in the flashpoint Shia holy city of Najaf.
Defence Minister Jose Bono said the withdrawal would take less than two months and explained that 190 soldiers dispatched to Iraq Monday were going to facilitate the safe and the swift exit of the Spanish contingent.
Moratinos denied Spain was washing its hands of the situation in Iraq but commentators believe that is how the move to withdraw the troops is being seen by the Bush administration.
Unusually, the Bush administration rebuke was backed in full by Democratic party presidential challenger Senator John Kerry.
[Copyright EFE with Expatica]
Subject: Spanish news