Bush urges Iraq-war allies to stick with US
U.S. President Bush on Tuesday called on Spain and other allies in Iraq to stick with the United States and not cave in to pressure from al Qaeda by withdrawing their troops.
The White House said it may seek a new U.N. resolution that could help persuade Spain not to withdraw its forces, as threatened by its newly elected Socialist prime minister in the wake of a suspected al Qaeda-linked strike in Madrid.
"It's essential that we remain side-by-side with the Iraqi people," Bush said during a meeting with Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende. "Al Qaeda understands the stakes. Al Qaeda wants us out of Iraq because al Qaeda wants to use Iraq as an example of defeating freedom and democracy."
White House spokesman Scott McClellan cautioned Spaniards and others against sending a "terrible message" by letting "terrorists" influence their elections and policies.
"All must understand that there is no making a separate peace with terrorists. You cannot negotiate with them," a senior administration official said.
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he expected other countries, which he did not identify, to contribute troops to make up for any withdrawn by Spain.
"You'll find countries stepping forward and saying, 'Well if that's what that country's going to do, we'll do just the opposite. We'll add some troops.' And we'll see what happens," Rumsfeld told BBC in a radio interview.
Bush's appeal for unity came one day after Spain's incoming leader, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, indicated he would pull his troops out of Iraq, in a major swing from his predecessor's pro-American foreign policy. The shift came just days after a 201 people died in bomb attacks on Madrid trains. An al Qaeda involvement is suspected in the attacks.
McClellan said Washington could seek a new U.N. resolution before it hands back sovereignty to Iraqis by the end of June, to encourage allies such as Spain to keep their troops in Iraq.
"We believe the United Nations has a vital role to play going forward," McClellan said. A new U.N. resolution "is something that certainly would be looked at," he said. "It may be quite appropriate, at that point."
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told reporters that discussions have already begun with Security Council members on a resolution that "will not only reaffirm the mandate of the U.N. team, if the circumstances permit for us to go back, but it would also deal with the issue of security and possibly a multinational force."
Zapatero's Socialists swept to office on Sunday after last week's deadly Madrid train bombings.
"Terrorists must not be allowed to think that they influence elections or that they influence policy. That would be a terrible message to send," McClellan said.
Zapatero's victory was a setback for the Bush administration, which had received rock-solid support on Iraq from departing Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar.
Bush said the goal of the terrorists was "to try to get the world to cower... to try to shake our will."
"They'll never shake the will of the United States. We understand the stakes and we will work with our friends to bring justice to the terrorists," Bush said.
"It is essential that the free world remain strong and resolute and determined," he added.
Bush appealed directly to the Dutch electorate not to withdraw their troops from Iraq.
"I would ask them to think about the Iraqi citizens, who don't want people to withdraw because they want to be free," Bush said.
The Dutch government has said it will not be cowed into withdrawing its 1,100 troops from Iraq and that the attacks should not affect deliberations on extending their mandate.
"It is important that the world society, international community stands shoulder-to-shoulder and shows its solidarity to fight against these terrible attacks," Balkenende told Bush in the Oval Office.
Zapatero, due to take office within the next month, repeated several times on Monday his campaign pledge to pull out troops unless the United Nations gains more authority in Iraq -- a shift in control that he said was unlikely.
Spain has 1,300 soldiers in parts of south-central Iraq. Critics of the government have argued that the Madrid bombings were the price Spain paid for backing the Iraq occupation.