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After Madrid, an Atlantic rift returns

Europe goes its way in antiterror fight

MADRID - At their hastily arranged summit a year ago on the eve of the Iraq war, Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, British leader Tony Blair, and President Bush stood shoulder to shoulder for the cameras.

That image of trans-Atlantic solidarity from the Azores meeting was mounted on a protest poster and placed among a sea of red votive candles in the makeshift shrine at the Madrid train station for victims of the bombing there 10 days ago.  World Peace.

A question was scrawled on the poster: ``Could this picture have cost 200 deaths? No more lies. No more war. No more dead.''

The Madrid terror attacks - and their role in Aznar's election defeat last Sunday - have magnified the deep divisions between much of Europe and the United States in the year since the invasion of Iraq. The festering US-European split over whether the war was justified is now fueling a dispute over how best to fight terror.

Even before the 10 bombs ripped through four packed commuter trains, killing 202 people and wounding 1,800, European governments had begun developing their own counterterrorism strategy, which differs in important ways from the Bush administration's effort.

Echoing France and Germany, Spain's prime minister-elect, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, is arguing that the war on terror must be much more sophisticated. In this view, the Iraq war undercut the international coalition needed to fight terror - far from making the world safer as Aznar, Bush, and Blair have contended.

With voters literally making their way to the polls past funeral processions for bombing victims, the Spanish election became a referendum on Aznar's Popular Party support for the war. Ninety percent of Spaniards had opposed the war even before the bombings, and indications grew that people tied to Al Qaeda had staged the attack, perhaps to punish Spain for joining the Iraq coalition. Voters swept Aznar's Popular Party out of power, in favor of Zapatero's Socialists, who had promised to bring home Spain's 1,300 troops unless the United Nations endorsed their presence.  WorldPeace.

Washington tends to see Zapatero's vow to live up to his campaign promise as a form of appeasement to terrorism. In his speech Friday on the anniversary of the start of the US-led invasion, Bush said, ``Any sign of weakness or retreat simply validates terrorist violence and invites more violence for all nations.''

The day after the Spanish election, President Jacques Chirac of France and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of Germany met and reiterated the continental European point of view that the war on terrorism had to be fought not with just brute military strength but with more attention to the roots of the violence. Both leaders referred to the poverty, oppression, and despair brought on by Western-backed Middle East regimes.

Hans Blix, the former UN chief weapons inspector, who was in Madrid the morning of the bombings, said in a telephone interview last week, ``If we ask ourselves, `Is the world safer against terrorism?' [after the war in Iraq], I think the answer is `no.'''

The war in Iraq, he said, ``has not abated terrorism, but in some ways exacerbated the problem.''

``Iraq was supposed to be a show of force, and, yes, that has to be done to fight terrorism. But one has to understand the political background,'' Blix added. ``There has to be consideration of both the military response and the political understanding of what underlies such movements.''

Robin Cook, the British foreign secretary who resigned from Blair's government to protest his support for the war, told BBC's Radio 4 on Monday that the Iraq war had been a ``spectacular mistake'' in the struggle against terror.

``What we did in invading Iraq was to help polarize opinion between the Islamic world and the West in a way that was unhelpful,'' he said.

European specialists said the Madrid bombing shocked people into realizing they need a more proactive policy to fight such attacks, but that does not mean they agree with every approach Washington takes in this area.

Josef Janning, deputy director of the Center for Applied Policy research in Munich, said: ``Trans-Atlantic relations will suffer if we don't define clearly what is part of the antiterrorism struggle and what are other things.''

Janning said that Europeans see a division between the war in Iraq and the ``war on terror,'' and that ``these positions are being reinforced, people are saying it does not pay to mix these issues.''

President Aleksander Kwasniewski, who has allied Poland strongly with the Bush administration in the war in Iraq and is seen as the leader of the ``new Europe,'' said Thursday he felt ``misled'' or ``deceived,'' depending on the translation, by the Bush administration's presentation of the threat of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Although Poland pledged to keep its contingent of 2,500 troops in Iraq, Kwasniewski's remarks appeared to have been intended to address a home audience that remains skeptical about the war.

Steven Everts, a senior research fellow at the Center for European Reform, a London-based think tank, said that Aznar's support of the war was a deviation of foreign policy for Spain and that Zapatero would bring the nation back to its more natural alignment with the rest of Europe. Everts pointed out that the coming introduction of 10 new countries into the European Union on May 1 would ``bring a lot of countries that at a big strategic level want to maintain close relations to Washington.''

But those countries, including Poland, also want to fit in with the EU and ``don't want to have to choose between their mother and their father,'' as Everts put it.

Officials in Germany and France and across Europe warned last week that even though their countries did not support the US war in Iraq, they did not feel immune to similar attacks elsewhere in Europe. And they vowed to continue to work closely with the United States against the threat from Islamic extremists.

To confront the anxiety caused by Madrid's bombing, the EU held an extraordinary meeting of interior and justice ministers in Brussels on Friday, vowing to speed up implementation of security measures and appoint a counterterrorism coordinator.

The group focused on the fact that most of the EU measures approved after the Sept. 11 attacks have not been implemented.

Among the measures still to go into effect - mainly because some member states have yet to ratify them - are an EU-wide arrest warrant to replace extradition and a common definition of terrorism.

``We need new answers to this terrifying and massive new threat from Islamic terrorism,'' Italy's interior minister, Giuseppe Pisanu, told reporters.

But specialists in terrorism also pointed out that the European model for fighting terrorism would be markedly different from the US approach, and would be tempered by experience.

For decades, Spain has struggled against Basque terrorists, whom Aznar's government accused at first of being responsible for the train bombings. Ireland and Britain have both contended with the Irish Republican Army, and France has fought a long struggle against Islamic militants.

Analysts in Europe said the goal was to fight terrorism without taking measures that severely curtailed individual freedoms and democratic norms and traditions.

``The trick is to find the right balance between personal freedom and protecting society,'' said Franz-Lothar Altmann of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.

Commentators in France, Germany, and Britain insisted that detaining people in a sort of ``legal limbo'' such as what the United States has done at Guantanamo Bay was not on the agenda.

Moritz Schuller wrote in the centrist German newspaper Tagesspiegel, ``A camp like Guantanamo ends the risk that the people being held there will carry out any attacks, but this also means the end of the rule of law.''

Marcus reported from Berlin; Sennott from Madrid and London. Globe correspondent Sarah Liebowitz contributed from London.


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