“The insurgents in Iraq are very violent, but you defeat them not just through military effort,” Ms. Rice told reporters traveling with her on Sunday. “You defeat them by having a political alternative that is strong.” Now, she added, Iraqi leaders are “going to have to intensify their efforts to demonstrate that in fact the political process is the answer for the Iraqi people.”
These words from US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, which are extremely welcome as the daily death toll in Iraq only continues to emphasise the need to break the spiral, also has a resonance somewhere nearer home: in Spain, where tomorrow the Spanish parliament are to debate a motion which may be a major step in bring the epoch of ETA inspired violence to an end.
But not everyone is happy.
Spanish Premier Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero assured yesterday he is ready to “make political effort” to reach peace in the Basque Autonomous Region “if there is a chance”. Zapatero denied the government is in contact with ETA, describing as hypocrites those who accuse him of creating false hopes.
Peace is “closer and closer” the Spanish Premier said. “There are more people who want peace, and fight for peace”, he stated. Afterwards he denied the government was negotiating with ETA.
“On Tuesday the infamy will be complete,” conservative columnist Alfonso Uss?a commented in La Raz?n yesterday. “Spain is falling apart and slipping through our hands.” More importantly People’s Party opposition leader Mariano Rajoy (the successor to Jos? Maria Aznar has accused Mr Zapatero of “betraying the dead”.
Zapatero’s crime: wanting to find a political alternative in the Basque Country that is strong enough to bring about the final abandonment of arms by ETA.
Indeed Zapatero’s position is much better than Rice’s: Spain’s home-grown insurgents are effectively defeated (yesterdays four bombs were more a show of weakness than a show of strength). The problem is now to bring about a political resolution of the Basque situation which makes it impossible for even the most resolute of ETA’s supporters to continue. Achieving this is not easy.
In some ways there is an effective deadlock with Zapatero demanding a formal abandonment of arms before any talks with pro-Eta political party Batasuna, and Batasuna demanding political ‘concessions’ as terms for making an explicit condemnation of violence.
So Zapatero is taking a risk. Something is needed to break the log jam. I think he is right to take this risk, and I admire him for it. More lamentable is the opposition view that, effectively, there is no need for a political process to accompany the military strategy.
Perhaps the longest lasting consequence of the March 11 tragedy in Spain is the recognition that faced with all the challenges of international terrorism, the Basque dispute is something which can be ill afforded. A solution is possible, Zapatero is right to go for it.