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Spain threatens Iraq pull-out


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Zapatero says his priority is fighting terrorism.

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MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- Spain's prime minister-elect has described the country's participation in the war in Iraq as "a total error," and says he plans to withdraw 1,300 Spanish troops in June.

Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero told a news conference Monday that if the U.N. did not take over control of Iraq, he believed Spanish troops would come back on June 30 -- the date the Coalition Provisional Authority is scheduled to turn over power to an interim Iraqi government.

"If the U.N. doesn't take control of Iraq, I think Spanish troops are going to come back, and the date is June 30," he said. "I don't think the administration in Iraq is the best."

Zapatero and the Socialist Party were swept into power in Sunday's Spanish election, three days after commuter train bombings killed more than 200 people and injured 1,500 others.

Three minutes silence in memory of the victims was observed Monday in European Union states at noon across most of the continent.

The surprise victor in the election over Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar's Popular Party, Zapatero vowed that fighting terrorism would be his first priority as he sets about creating an administration "that will work for peace."

"I am going to fight the violence that also is attacking other nations in this world," he told reporters.

For that he was asking for the support of the Spanish people, he said.

"I want to create an alliance against violence and all kinds of terrorism," he said. "I don't want to create my own war."

Zapatero said he wants to maintain his country's "cordial" relations with the United States, even though he did not support the U.S.-led war on Iraq.

"The Socialist Party is going to keep relationships with all the governments of the world, including the United States, even though we don't agree on some issues," Zapatero said. "That is part of democracy -- that we get along with every single nation."

He said he wanted to develop better ties with neighboring Morocco, even though three of the five men arrested in relation to last week's bombings in Madrid are Moroccan.

Investigators suspect that one of them, Jamal Zougam, has ties to the alleged ringleader of al Qaeda in Spain. (Full story)

A Moroccan official told CNN Monday that Zougam also is suspected of playing a role in a series of bombings in Casablanca last May that killed more than 30 people. The brother of a friend of Zougam was arrested for his involvement in the attacks.

In Washington, Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Indiana., chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, expressed disappointment at the prospect of Spain's withdrawal of its forces from Iraq, and implied such a move could have consequences for Spain.

"Spain would have to reconsider carefully its role in Europe," he said. Asked whether he was suggesting that Spain's position in NATO and Europe might be damaged, he said: "My own guess is that it would be, at least temporarily."

Warsaw's Ambassador to NATO has told Reuters that Poland is willing to stay in command of the stabilization force in central-south Iraq if Spain withdraws.

Spain had been due to take charge of the division on July 1. (Full story)

CNN Madrid Bureau Chief Al Goodman contributed to this report.


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