- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 19, 2002

President Bush and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar touted their close partnership yesterday an embarrassing U.S.-Spanish backdown on the Arabian Sea notwithstanding and recommitted their countries to a joint battle against terrorism.
In a meeting that started in the Oval Office and continued over lunch, the leaders focused on the strong ties between the two countries and the two men.
Mr. Bush lingered with Mr. Aznar much longer than with most foreign leaders who pay him a visit. And he lavished praise on Mr. Aznar calling him "one of the world's strongest leaders when it comes to our mutual concerns about keeping the peace and fighting terror" and spoke intermittently in the Spanish leader's language.
Among the stickier items between the allies right now is Spain's displeasure over being involved by the United States in an embarrassing high-seas takeover of a legal missile shipment to Yemen.
Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said the matter was not raised during the formal meeting. The White House had no comment on what transpired over lunch.
Washington asked the Spanish navy to intercept and board a freighter last week in the Arabian Sea, and Scud missiles imported from North Korea were found on board. Two days later, after Yemen demanded its missiles, the ship was sent on its way.
Yemen said it contracted for the missiles before promising to avoid such deals with North Korea, and the Bush administration ultimately sought to balance the need to keep Yemen in the global anti-terror coalition against worries about North Korean missile sales.
But the release surprised the Spanish Defense Ministry and drew scathing criticism from Spanish opposition politicians.
In the leaders' public remarks ahead of their talks, only points of cooperation and agreement were raised. Neither took questions from reporters.
Apparently referring to the armed separatist group ETA's violent, decades-long campaign to create an independent Basque homeland, Mr. Bush said Mr. Aznar "understands firsthand the consequences of terror activity."
The president offered condolences for the killing of a police officer earlier this week in Spain by a suspected ETA member.
Another item on the agenda was the Bush administration's resolve to take on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein if he does not give up weapons of mass destruction, Mr. Fleischer said.
Along with Poland and Italy, Spain has offered moral support for a military campaign, if not explicit promises of troops or other material help.
Mr. Bush told Mr. Aznar of his determination to consult with allies and approach the U.N. Security Council before taking any action, Mr. Fleischer said.

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