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US disappointed with Spain's pullout
Updated: 2004-04-20 00:23

The United States voiced disappointment at Spain's decision to withdraw its 1,400 troops from Iraq but wants close ties with the new Madrid government, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said Monday.

Moratinos said he had spoken to the US secretary of state to inform him of Spain's decision just hours before the surprise announcement by Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero on Sunday, only a day after taking office.

"I cannot hide that there was a certain degree of disappointment from Secretary of State Colin Powell,'' Moratinos told Cadena Ser radio.

"But he told me he understood the political reasons for the decision and that he wanted to maintain the highest relations with me and the whole Spanish Government,'' said Moratinos, who flies to Washington today for talks with Powell and US National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

President George W. Bush's national security adviser said on Sunday that the United States expects other nations with forces in Iraq to reassess their position after Spain's decision to pull its troops out.

White House spokesman Ken Lisaius also said Washington wanted the Spanish withdrawal to be made in a "co-ordinated, responsible and orderly manner'' but offered no critique of Madrid's decision.

Condoleezza Rice, speaking on ABC's "This Week'' before the decision was announced in Madrid, said, "We know that there are others who are going to have to assess how they see the risk."

"We have 34 countries with forces on the ground. I think there are going to be some changes,'' Rice added.

A Spanish government source said the withdrawal operation would take "at least a month and a half to two months'' and declined to say when it would start.

With the rising casualties in Iraq, President George W. Bush plans to launch a new international initiative to help train and equip international troops for peacekeeping missions around the world, US administration officials said Monday.

The expected five-year, US$660 million plan, first reported by The Washington Post, could help relieve pressure on American forces stretched thin by deployments in Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti and elsewhere.

The money will be used for training, equipment and logistical support to help ready countries for peacekeeping missions on short notice, chiefly in their own regions.

"They have a greater familiarity with the people in their regions and can be deployed in a more rapid manner," an administration official said.

Dubbed the Global Peace Operations Initiative, the campaign will be aimed largely at Africa.

The programme will also assist armies in Asia, Latin America and Europe, with the goal of training up to 75,000 foreign troops.

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