Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar yesterday pledged support for U.S. President George W. Bush in his campaign against Iraq, stopping just short of endorsing a unilateral U.S. military strike. “We are on the side of those who want to prevent threats to the world,” Aznar told parliament a day after Bush consulted with the Spanish leader about Iraq. The centre-right Aznar has been one of Europe's most ardent supporters of the United States along with Tony Blair and immediately offered use of Spanish air bases for retaliatory strikes after the September 11 attacks a year ago. Spanish air bases also were used in the 1991 Gulf war against Iraq. Aznar compares the September 11 attacks to the bloody campaign of violence by the armed Basque separatist group ETA, which has been killing civilians in Spain for more than three decades to press its demands for Basque independence. In parliament yesterday, Socialist opposition leader Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero demanded that Aznar explain his position on Iraq after Spanish newspapers reported that Aznar told Bush Spain would support a U.S.-led attack if Saddam Hussein refused to allow arms inspections. The Socialists, Zapatero said, refused to back any attack on Iraq not sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council. “I want to exhaust all of the channels of persuasion in relation to the crisis with Iraq,” Aznar responded, adding that “I hope for a U.N. resolution.” But he also made clear he would support Bush even if the Security Council did not. “It is incredible that the Iraqi regime for some time has been trying by all means to acquire weapons of mass destruction and give cover to terrorism,” Aznar said. “We will always be on the side of those who like us and with us fight for the cause of freedom and against terrorism,” he said. Aznar had told Bush a U.N. resolution supporting military action against Iraq was preferable but not necessary, newspapers said, citing sources close to Aznar. A spokesman for Aznar said on Wednesday the prime minister offered Bush Spain's “support in the fight against international terrorism” but said “military intervention was never discussed in concrete terms” in the phone call. However, the spokesman said he was not denying the newspaper reports that Spain would support a U.S. military attack on Iraq, describing them as “a reasonable interpretation”. So far the only world leader who has given his full support for the proposed attacks is Tony Blair who is facing mounting protest at home over his stance even within his own party.

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