NEW YORK – Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero lobbied Tuesday for a “grand alliance with moderate Islam” to isolate violent Muslim radicals, and he defended “global political action” to achieve peace and security in Afghanistan.
Zapatero made his remarks in an interview with CNN taped in New York, where he traveled to participate in a meeting on climate change and at the opening of the 64th session of the U.N. General Assembly.
The premier said it is necessary to increase the military presence in Afghanistan, as NATO believes, and he noted that the Spanish Parliament this week approved the sending of 220 more troops, but he put special emphasis on his call for political action.
He also said that this will be the message he will relay to U.S. President Barack Obama when he meets with him at the White House next month.
In Zapatero’s opinion, aside from the need for more troops, the fundamental thing is for military action to be accompanied by political action and by cooperation on “a broader strategy within the international order.”
More than 1,300 Spanish troops, including 450 soldiers sent to bolster security for the Aug. 20 general elections, are currently serving with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
“If we move forward in the Middle East peace process, we will be cutting down the time (it will take) to see a stable, secure and democratic Afghanistan,” insisted Zapatero, who added that “Obama knows that Spain is committed to Afghanistan and that it will continue to be.”
When asked about the size of the Spanish troop contingent compared with that of Britain, which is 10 times larger despite the fact that the two armies are similar in size, Zapatero said that the Spanish presence in Afghanistan is at “a reasonable level.”
He also emphasized Madrid’s financial contribution and the cooperation projects being led by Spain, saying that “there is no security without development and, logically, development needs security.”
Zapatero took advantage of the occasion to defend the Hispanic-Turkish initiative for an Alliance of Civilizations and pushed for the achievement of a “grand alliance with moderate Islam” to isolate radical elements.
He also took pains to clarify the differences between the Afghanistan mission, sponsored by the U.N., and the U.S. military intervention in Iraq, which was not backed by the international community and which Spain abandoned as soon as Zapatero’s Socialists came to power in April 2004.
When asked if Spain, the victim of the deadly commuter train bombings of March 11, 2004, is now safe from Islamic terrorism, he said that “nobody is free of this madness” and therefore he insisted on the need to promote a culture of understanding between civilizations to internationally isolate violent factions. EFE