- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 4, 2004

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, a staunch ally of the United States in Iraq, told Congress yesterday that Spain has no desire to turn Europe into a counterweight to American economic and military power.

“The Atlantic relationship strengthens Europeans and Americans alike,” Mr. Aznar said at a joint session of Congress.

“As a European, I have no wish for an alternative to the trans-Atlantic relationship. Wanting a strong European Union, as Spain does, and being at the vanguard of Europe, as Spain is, does not entail being a counterpower to the United States.”

He mentioned neither Germany nor France by name but his comments marked an indirect rebuke of both nations, which actively opposed the Iraq war and whose leaders have called on Europe to act as a check on global American influence.

Mr. Aznar was the first Spanish prime minister to address Congress.

The invitation reflected U.S. gratitude for Spain’s support before, during and after the war in Iraq. It was something of a farewell speech, as Mr. Aznar is stepping down in March after eight years in office.

The 30-minute speech, delivered in Spanish, was interrupted a dozen times by cheering, applause and standing ovations.

Vice President Dick Cheney introduced Mr. Aznar while Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and other members of the Cabinet sat in the front row.

Mr. Aznar also reiterated Spain’s commitment to the war on terrorism.

Despite public opinion polls in Spain, which show the majority opposed the war, Mr. Aznar said that fighting terrorism in Afghanistan and Iraq was necessary to defend the principles of freedom and democracy.

Much of the speech focused on future U.S.-European relations. He spoke of trade liberalization, privatization and freedom as tools to promote economic development.

And he repeated his proposal to create a new free-trade zone between the United States and Europe.

“I proposed recently, and I reiterate here today, that we should create a great economic, financial and trade zone between Europe and the United States by the year 2015,” he said.

He added that Latin America should be part of that future.

“The countries of this region have made great efforts in recent decades to consolidate democratic regimes and free market economies,” he said.

“This is a further reason for our desire to strengthen ties between Europe and Latin America.

“The Atlantic relationship will not be complete until it embraces the American continent in its entirety.”

He took a parting swipe at Fidel Castro’s communist Cuba.

“The Caribbean island is on of the last remaining anomalies of history, not just in the Americas but anywhere in the world,” he said, noting his own family roots in Cuba.

“I would like to reiterate here my desire and hope that, before long, Cuba can be welcomed into the fold of free nations.”

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