Mar. 3, 2003. 01:00 AM
Spain's Aznar takes big risk
/bigger>/bigger>Backs U.S., Britain on Iraq crisis Seeks louder
voice for his country
MADRID— A shy former tax inspector has led
Spain kicking and screaming into ground zero of the Iraq crisis, gambling that
his avid support for the United States will help his country gain global
Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar says confronting the threat of
terrorism and weapons of mass destruction outweighs the risk of political
oblivion for his party as he defies public opinion to back possible U.S.
military action to disarm Iraq.
"We don't want anyone to tell us at some
point in the future, `You failed to confront the problems the world had,'" Aznar
said Friday at a news conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. "We are
working for world peace and security.''
Aznar also wants Spain to become
a prominent voice on the international stage to match its growing power and
confidence. After decades as one of Europe's poor, backward states, Spain has
undergone dramatic changes since longtime dictator Gen. Francisco Franco died in
1975, evolving into a stable democracy with the world's 10th-largest
In a world redefined by terrorism since Sept. 11, Aznar is
especially eager to see Spain — which for decades has battled Basque separatist
violence it calls terrorism — emerge as a country with things to say and to
offer. Aznar says Spain is strong enough to join the G-7 club of wealthy
"Spain must play in the first division," Aznar
said in a recent radio interview.
As Aznar digs Spain deeper into the
U.S. camp, the silence from Aznar's conservative Popular Party is deafening: it
refrains from griping, but there's no praise either.
Polls show more than
80 per cent of Spaniards oppose war even with United Nations backing. Aznar, 50,
has said he won't seek a third term in general elections scheduled for
Along with Britain and the United States, Spain has co-sponsored a
draft U.N. resolution paving the way to war. About the only thing missing is a
Spanish commitment to provide troops, ships or planes if war does break out, and
Aznar doesn't rule it out.