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News Releases on Europe

April 12, 2004

April 12, 2004 | News Releases on Europe

Time to Repair Damage Done by Madrid Blast

WASHINGTON, April 12, 2004 - Al Qaeda may have tipped the balance of the Spanish election. Its bombing of commuter trains in Madrid came only 48 hours before the election of a new Socialist Party government with a strong anti-American bent.

But, according to a new paper from The Heritage Foundation, quick work by the White House and the U.S. diplomatic corps can heal the wounds that enabled Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and his party to score a stunning upset of the Popular Party headed by outgoing prime minister and close American ally Jose Maria Aznar.

The Spanish elections most likely will alter dramatically the relationship between Washington and Madrid, say Nile Gardiner and John Hulsman, experts on European politics. And the bombings could signal not only a shift in al Qaeda's strategy toward dividing the United States from Europe but the beginning of a series of attacks on European cities such as London, Rome and Warsaw.

In light of recent developments, the Bush administration should make a concerted effort to shore up the "coalition of the willing" in Europe, Gardiner and Hulsman say. Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice should lead a diplomatic offensive to shore up support for the United States' efforts in Iraq and the war on terrorism.

The Heritage experts recommend that President Bush convene a summit of European allies to discuss the future of Iraq. They also say the United States should strengthen ties with the countries of "New Europe," - principally the former Warsaw Pact nations now seeking entry to a variety of Western institutions - to balance the power of any coalition that forms between Spain and perhaps France or Germany.

The authors further suggest we move closer to Spain and other countries in Europe on intelligence sharing, not farther away. And, they say, the administration must make every effort to prevent Spain from dropping out of the U.S.-led war on terrorism, despite anti-American bluster and legitimate differences of opinion on how to deal with problems in Iraq.

It's not that Spain's contribution of soldiers is so important, Gardiner and Hulsman note. Spain contributes 1,300 soldiers -about 1 percent of the 130,000 or so in Iraq. It's that Spain's departure could provide momentum for others to abandon the coalition. "It would be a significant blow on a symbolic level," Gardiner says. "It may prompt some European nations, such as Denmark and Italy, to withdraw their small contingents and encourage other nations, such as Japan and South Korea, to reconsider sending troops."

Finally, the paper argues, Washington should call on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to take command of coalition forces in Iraq when power transfers to the Iraqi people on June 30. This should reduce the burden on American forces and result in greater levels of cooperation with the countries of Europe.

"It's not likely our relationship with Spain will remain as close as it has been," say Gardiner and Hulsman. "But we need not and should not lose Spain as a partner in the war on terrorism. This is one victory we can't let al Qaeda have."

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