- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 8, 2003

President lauds Spanish leader for war support President Bush yesterday shrugged off Democratic criticism of his dramatic landing on an aircraft carrier last week as it brought home U.S. forces from Operation Iraqi Freedom.”Listen, it was an honor for me to go on the USS Abraham Lincoln,” Mr. Bush said at the White House in a joint press conference with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar. “I appreciated the chance to thank our troops.”Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, went to the Senate floor Tuesday to question the motives of a “desk-bound president who assumes the garb of a warrior.”“I am loath to think of an aircraft carrier being used as an advertising backdrop for a presidential political slogan, and yet that is what I saw,” said Mr. Byrd, an outspoken critic of the war.Asked yesterday about Mr. Byrd’s criticism, the president was unapologetic.”It was an unbelievably positive experience,” he said. “I was able to speak to the country and talk about not only their courage, but the courage of a lot of other men and women who wear our country’s uniform.”I’m glad I did it,” he added. “It was also a really good landing. I didn’t mind it.”Mr. Bush pointed out that while the pilot of the jet was supposed to snag the third of four cables stretched across the Lincoln’s flight deck, the tailhook ended up catching “on the fourth” cable.By inviting Mr. Aznar to the White House, Mr. Bush was rewarding his Spanish counterpart for supporting the United States in Iraq at a time when other nations were balking.”I want to thank [Mr. Aznar] for Spain’s diplomatic support before the conflict and for the use of Spanish airspace and bases as the war grew closer,” Mr. Bush said. “Jose Maria is a man of principle and a man of courage.”Under his leadership, Spain has been a strong partner in the war against terror and has stood with a coalition to liberate the people of Iraq,” he added. “He believes in freedom, freedom for all.”Mr. Bush offered his condolences to the friends and families of two Spanish journalists who were killed while covering the war but shrugged off a Spanish reporter’s suggestion that he should apologize for the deaths.”War is a dangerous place,” Mr. Bush said. “Nobody would kill a journalist intentionally.”Mr. Aznar added, “The U.S. government has already said that this was a mistake, and we believe this.”Meanwhile, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said in an interview published yesterday that the United States would be forced to act if it turns out that Syria accepted weapons of mass destruction from Iraq during the war.”We have assurances from the Syrians that nothing crossed their borders. Time will tell,” Miss Rice told four Spanish newspapers on Tuesday.If the U.S. determines that Syria is lying, the international community would be forced to act, she added, according to one of the newspapers, El Pais. She stopped short of specifically threatening war.Miss Rice also slammed France for threatening NATO’s Eastern European members with reprisals if they supported the U.S.-led war against Iraq.”The United States did not divide the Europeans,” she said. “It wasn’t us that threatened smaller countries with reprisals, nor tried to shut up the countries of Eastern Europe.”She also sharply criticized Germany and France for threatening to block military aid to Turkey if it supported the war.”Nobody should take NATO hostage,” Miss Rice said. “It was very unsettling that Germany and France tried to prevent NATO from reinforcing the security of Turkey. There were many unsettling things in that process.”

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