Officials attend funeral in Madrid

Spain remembers victims of terror attacks as leaders meet next prime minister

March 25, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

MADRID, Spain - Mixing mourning and power politics, some of Spain's closest friends went to Madrid yesterday to honor the victims of the recent terror attacks and get acquainted with its government-in-waiting.

For most of the world leaders who attended an official funeral service for victims of the train bombings March 11, it was the first opportunity to size up the incoming Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

In back-to-back meetings with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, President Jacques Chirac of France and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of Germany, among others, Zapatero laid out what he called an "ambitious vision" for a "great Europe" that would be a powerful, unified entity in global diplomacy, several participants in the meetings said.

Officially, the world leaders went to Spain for a 2 1/2 -hour state funeral and Catholic Mass in the Almudena Cathedral, where they joined Spain's royal family and families of the 190 victims of the Madrid bombings.

In the shadow of a huge black ribbon hung in the cathedral, a choir sang classic hymns in Latin. Some members of the congregation openly displayed their bandaged wounds, while others cradled framed photographs of loved ones who were killed.

Other guests included Britain's Prince Charles and European royals; the prime ministers of Poland, the Czech Republic, Belgium, Hungary and Romania; and the presidents of Italy, Portugal, Finland and Bulgaria.

Spain's King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia, trying to hold back tears, went row by row to comfort families of the victims with handshakes and embraces.

But Zapatero was the focus of attention for the assembled leaders during their meetings before and after the service. He pledged to repair relationships that were badly damaged when the continent divided over the Iraq war - into what Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld called the "old" Europe, led by France and Germany, which opposed the war, and the "new" Europe, led by Britain and Spain, which embraced it.

"There is no division between old and new Europe," Zapatero said repeatedly in private meetings, according to several of the participants.

Zapatero also promised to take a more conciliatory position on the European constitution than his predecessor, calling it a "milestone" in the struggle to win hearts and minds for the idea of Europe.

Zapatero, a 43-year-old lawyer and former deputy in Parliament with no foreign policy experience, also vowed to fulfill his campaign pledge to withdraw Spain's 1,300 troops from Iraq unless they are put under a United Nations mandate by the end of June.

In his meeting with Zapatero, Powell made clear that the United States disagreed with that approach.

"So many things pull us together," Powell said in a brief conversation as he emerged from his meeting with Zapatero. "We share common values. We are united in the war on terrorism. But we disagree on Iraq."

In contrast to his comments last week, when he accused President Bush and Blair of basing the war against Iraq on "lies," Zapatero avoided harsh rhetoric.

A senior administration official with Powell described the meeting as "good, positive and straightforward."

"Mr. Zapatero was clear in his views that the U.N. needed to be in Iraq or Spain's troops would leave," the official said. "We said we'd be in touch with them as things developed."

Blair, speaking at a news conference in Lisbon, Portugal, later yesterday, said, "Of course there is a disagreement over the issue of Iraq with Mr. Zapatero."

But, he added, "I think that everybody accepts that whatever their position is on the war in Iraq, the essential thing now is to help the Iraqi people. I hope we can find common grounds there."

Zapatero also told Powell that Spain would be willing to share more responsibility in Afghanistan, where Spain has a small troop presence, according to Miguel Angel Moratinos, who will serve as Spain's foreign minister.

The meeting between Powell and Zapatero lasted only 15 minutes. Powell was kept waiting for 40 minutes because Zapatero was running late after the funeral ran longer than expected. It did not help that Chirac preceded Powell.

Powell cut the meeting short, explaining that he had a plane to catch, a senior administration official said.

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