José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero Event

NOTE: Prime Minister Zapatero spoke in Spanish.  The text of his remarks below is transcribed from a translator’s audio.


  • Frederick Kempe, President and CEO, Atlantic Council
  • General James Jones, National Security Advisor
  • Senator Chuck Hagel, Chairman, Atlantic Council
  • José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Prime Minister of Spain

February 4, 2010

FREDERICK KEMPE:  Greetings to you all.  Mr. President, I think you can see by the turnout, by the crowd, the enormous interest in your remarks.  I’m Fred Kempe; I’m president and CEO of the Atlantic Council, and I’m delighted to welcome you to this Atlantic Council Global Leadership Series event.

We’re honored here to have the president of the Spanish government, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.  I also want to give thanks to BBVA and its president and CEO Francisco González.  Francisco, are you here?  Francisco, it’s great to see you here.  He’s one of the founding members of the international advisory board of the Atlantic Council, and as editor of the Wall Street Journal Europe, I used to steal your ideas all the time.  (Laughter.)  So it’s wonderful to see you.

Among the many distinguished guests this evening, we are honored to welcome Spain’s ambassador to the United States, His Excellency Jorge Dezcallar.  We’re also happy to have His Excellency Javier Sancho, Spain’s permanent observer to the OAS.  And I’m just delighted to see so many distinguished members of the European diplomatic corps.

It’s now my pleasure to turn over to welcome you all this evening, to start the evening, to our chairman of the Atlantic Council, Sen. Chuck Hagel, one of America’s leading foreign policy thinkers and actors.  And he’s not just the chairman of the Atlantic Council; he’s also the embodiment of the Atlantic Council’s bipartisan nature and commitment to renewing the Atlantic community for global challenges.  Mr. President, you may know bipartisanship doesn’t come easily to your country or to our country, but we really go at it every day at the Atlantic Council.

Chuck Hagel succeeded Gen. James Jones, who left to become national security advisor to Barack Obama, and he was our chairman before.  Sen. Hagel represented Nebraska in the United States Senate for two terms and, while there, he was on most of the more important committees:  foreign relations, intelligence, banking, housing, urban affairs, and the Committee on Rules and Administration.

In politics, he was known as a great leader who was not afraid to break with the party line in order to follow his conscience.  In the age of ultra-partisanship, Sen. Hagel is still known for the infamous line, “I took an oath of office to my party” – excuse me – “I took an oath of office to the Constitution; I didn’t take an oath of office to my party or my president.”  It’s an honor to turn the stage to our chairman, Sen. Chuck Hagel.

CHUCK HAGEL:  Fred, thank you, and good afternoon, and welcome.  I am particularly pleased that you are all here.  I am honored to be associated with the Atlantic Council for its decades of good work – important work, relevant work – and the contributions that it has made and continues to make to the trans-Atlantic alliance.

As has been already noted by Fred Kempe, we have a wonderful tradition on the Atlantic Council, to say nice things about each other, and so I am particularly pleased to bask in the glory of that very generous, a bit exaggerated, introduction.  But nonetheless I shall accept it, Fred, in the spirit that you delivered it.  Thank you.

Now, let me say very quickly as I prepare my only assignment here – and that is to introduce Jim Jones to this group – Fred Kempe and his colleagues deserve great credit for the work that they have done and continue to do on behalf of world affairs and engaging America even deeper and wider in the areas that are most profound and challenging to all of us, as global citizens.  So, Fred, thank you and to your very able colleagues.

Let me turn to my assignment, and that is to present Gen. Jim Jones.  There is no one in this room, I suspect, who does not know Jim Jones.  And this is one of those unique individuals who is both a Marine general and speaks French.  (Laughter.)

We’re not here to introduce our French colleagues, but nonetheless, that is some indication of Gen. Jones’ range, his ability to perform all kinds of assignments – as has been his career – in difficult times and in difficult areas. And he has once again taken on not an unimportant assignment for our country – not just the president of the United States, but for our country – and our relationships.  And he will, I suspect, speak a bit to that as he introduces our very special guest today.

It is really an immense pleasure and an honor to present to you my predecessor in this job.  And as I said, when I accepted this job after Jim was asked by the president to assume the national security advisor job, that it was a very poor trade.  The Atlantic Council – they exchanged a general for a sergeant.  But nonetheless I am plugging along and calling him often, and I am very proud of Jim Jones and our friendship, the job he’s doing and what he has done for our country and the world and yet what he will do for our country and our relationships.  Gen. Jim Jones.  (Applause.)

GEN. JAMES JONES:  Sen. Hagel, thank you very much for the kind introduction, and Fred, to you and the staff of the Atlantic Council, thank you for all of the many good things that you do to add to our intellectual debate here in Washington on matters of both national and international interest.  It’s a pleasure to be with you today to welcome back to Washington President Zapatero.

President Obama had the opportunity earlier today to personally welcome the president at this morning’s National Prayer Breakfast, where they were able to meet and also have a little chat.  And the president delivered some inspiring remarks that many of you may have heard, and then attended a meeting over at the Chamber of Commerce this afternoon, so he is busy today and we’re going to impose on him shortly to address us and to answer some very important questions that I’m sure you will have for him.

It goes without saying that Spain is a very valued friend and a long-time ally of the United States.  And we are united in a broad partnership based not only on our many common challenges and our mutual interests but on the core values we share and the historic bonds between our people.

I’ve always admired Spain’s rich and noble history, and as a Marine, I always make it a point to salute the Spanish marine corps, which is the oldest marine corps in the world by quite a bit – quite a number of years.  And if you look – were to look at the uniform of the U.S. Marines and the Spanish marines, you would see great similarities between the two.

I’ve also had the great honor of meeting His Majesty King Juan Carlos, whose royal lineage goes back centuries, and we look forward to welcoming the king to Washington for a meeting with our president later on this month.

Spain’s greatness is not just about its past, however.  It’s also about its future.  And under the leadership of President Zapatero, the United States and Spain have built a partnership that will meet the challenges and the opportunities of the 21st century.

President Obama and President Zapatero are working together to promote peace and prosperity around the world.  In response to President Obama’s decision to increase our forces in Afghanistan, as an example, President Zapatero immediately worked to commit over 500 additional combat troops and trainers.  And most importantly for a former NATO commander, he also lifted caveats – all caveats – on Spanish forces, giving commanders on the ground critical flexibility to operate as they need to.

In Iraq, President Zapatero is also deploying Spain’s prestigious Guardia Civil, which are critical to Iraq’s ability to stand up its own professional forces in the defense of the country.  Within the European Union, Spain has been a leader on counterterrorism cooperation, which is vital to secure the security of our citizens.  And the president has also set an example within the EU by strongly supporting our president’s goal to close our detainment facility at Guantanamo Bay.

In Haiti, President Zapatero also demonstrated leadership and compassion by quickly moving people and supplies to the same, and providing ongoing care for this hemispheric priority.  On these and many, many more issues, President Zapatero has shown himself to be a true ally, partner and friend of the United States.  We are committed to strengthening and deepening that partnership both bilaterally and within our multilateral relationships.

This is a historic time for Europe, with a NATO focused on developing a new strategic concept, the ratification of the Lisbon treaty – providing new authority and structures for a stronger European Union – and the naming of the first permanent president of the European Council.

Today, I am more confident than ever that the trans-Atlantic alliance which has anchored our peace and prosperity for over 60 years will provide a strong foundation for our shared and common future.  I know we all look forward to hearing the president’s ideas for moving trans-Atlantic cooperation forward, and I am therefore immensely proud to introduce President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the president of Spain.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

[Note:  President Zapatero’s remarks are delivered via translator.]

PRIME MINISTER JOSE LUIS RODRIGUEZ ZAPATERO:  Good evening.  I’d like to express my appreciation for this opportunity to address all of you at this very important forum of analysis and thought:  the Atlantic Council.  I would like to express my appreciation to its chairman for their invitation, and for the very affectionate and friendly words of Gen. Jones – very generous as well.  You know that Gen. Jones is a good friend of Spain’s, and Spain is a good friend of Gen. Jones.

Therefore, ahead of us is a fertile relationship between our two governments and, today, in which I’ve had a very extensive and intensive activity, beginning with that very unique ceremony of the National Prayer Breakfast – today, in this forum, I would like to convey some of our thoughts on the challenges and how I see the main issues of collective security from the Atlantic perspective.  I would like to make two – four statements as a starting point in order to focus our subjects.

First of all, the United States continues to be the first world power and will continue to be so.  But the United States needs Europe.  We both need the other.  We need to adapt the relationship between the United States and Europe to the new realities and challenges of the 21st century realities, some of which we know already as challenges, but others are yet to be defined after the substantial changes in world geopolitics after the coming down of the Berlin Wall.

Secondly, in our quest for security and counterterrorism around the world, which is the most, the clearest, current danger to us, we have both shown firmness, respect and collaboration, and Spain will continue to prove firmness, loyalty, and cooperation in this struggle against terrorism, whichever it may be.

Thirdly, there is a decisive matter in the agenda of international security:  the possible renewal of the peace negotiations in the Middle East.  We are speaking of a conflict that destabilizes a region, but not only does it do that, but it nurtures radicalization in the Arab and Muslim world, where most of the potential hotspots of risk and conflict are to be found.

This danger has become global because there are more and more actors trying to influence the region that needs this peace process so desperately.  We have the opportunity of once again beginning a new peace process, a new dialogue in the Middle East, and it is up to Europe and the United States to make it a success, to a great extent.  We have to work together quickly and with full and close cooperation.

Fourthly, our concept of the trans-Atlantic relations for this new world of the 21st century needs a certain degree of adaptation, some changes which I would like to propose to you.  We should enlarge our vision of trans-Atlantic relations and of trans-Atlantic security.

And we should do so to include Latin America and some parts of Africa – the Atlantic countries of Africa – to build a new trans-Atlantic community and to manage those dormant problems that affect us all, most especially on the African side of the Atlantic where we could be beginning to see some worrying risks to our security.

Consequently, Europe and the United States need each other.  The United States will continue to preserve its leadership to so preserve collective security.  Spain will continue to be firm in its fight against international terrorism based on solidarity, and we must enlarge our vision of the trans-Atlantic agenda and trans-Atlantic security to include Latin America and West Africa.

We all know that we are going through very many changes, transformations.  It’s an era in the making in terms of what is going to be marking the coming decades in international relations and the balance of power.  It’s a time of change; this has been shown very clearly in what can be called economic security, a new vision of security with the G-20 as its reference.  A refoundation of the G-20 that is still fledgling seems to be gelling as the forum of reference for economic security matters, to anticipate the crises, to facilitate growth and to give answers to the problems to facilitate balanced growth.

And today at the G-20, what we’re talking about essentially is financial security.  That’s what our citizens want.  That’s what our business community needs, and so do our countries in order to develop the international financial system, which has been undergoing tremendous growth in recent years but has been growing without any prior and robust system to guarantee the proper functioning of our economies.  The definition of what the G-20 is to be – and we are still in the refounding process – is going to be conditioning the new international governance system.

It is going to be the forum, the channel through which it will be clearly and obviously expressed that there is a new reality that has been taking shape in these last decades.  And I’m speaking about the emerging powers – what we could call sub-represented countries in the international arena who are demanding legitimately greater responsibility and participation in the solving of global problems in order to give them an effective solution.

We, therefore, are seeing changes in the international structures, the most important of which, the most significant of which, the G-20, yet in the making, yet to be defined.  And it is of great importance for the definition to be appropriate, to be adequate and for the G-20 not to merely want to stay as it is, but it should be come more operational and more effective together with this architecture – this political architecture – in the international relations.

It is evident in the disencounters (sic/confrontations) that risks always bring about in difficult times do not have the ideological component they use to have during most of the 20th century.  The risks that come from these disencounters come primarily from the disencounter of cultures inspired by certain religious movements and essentially from a religion or the use of a religion that has extremist components that defend aggressiveness to what we know as the West.

It’s known that the struggle against jihadism, the most violent expression of this movement that uses violence, this fight against them should of course use force, but it should also use a more strategic vision in the long term in order to tackle and to contain the problem of substance which is preventing radicalism spreading in the Arab world and in the Muslim community.  And this risk is growing.

In order to make this possible, the United States and especially Europe must make a major investment to foster moderation – diplomatic, political, social – with dialogue of alliance of cultures and civilizations.  Hence, I am convinced that the alliance of civilizations that is under the aegis of the United Nations and that unites 102 states and organizations – and I hope and trust that soon the United States will join as well – can play a critical role in curbing the expansion of radicalism and in opening up channels of dialogue and in investing politically, diplomatically in confidence and trust in most Islamic and moderate countries.

Ladies and gentlemen, Europe is a unique project in the history of the politics we know ever since states were consolidated in their modern form.  It is a political project that brings together 27 countries at present – 27 countries that preserve their legal entity as states and their sovereignty but that pitch in together all their efforts and harmonize very many of their policies in order to achieve general aims to the benefit of each and every member state of the European Union.  It is a European Union that is streamlining itself and aims to become more solid, not only in the economy but also in foreign relations and security.

The new Treaty of Lisbon will enable the relationship of the European Union with its main partners and allies around the world, such as the United States, to be a more fluent, closer and based on solidarity.  And it will enable the responsibilities of security and defense that Europe must endow itself with can be done more effectively and with a common policy.

Europe deploys political and economic power which is unique in its kind, not only because of its economic potential, not only because it’s in the lead in development aid, but because Europe’s interlocutory capacity is privileged in some regional areas that are decisive to peace and stability in Europe, and very specifically and especially with the Arab world, with the Mediterranean region and with Africa.

And that’s why the European Union must take on more responsibilities.  It must take the lead more often, have more initiative.  Europe must exert its leadership for collective security in our trans-Atlantic relationship.  And it must do so in line and in harmony with the United States.  There have been very many years of political consensus and work in international fora.  We’ve worked on Pakistan and Afghanistan where we concur on human rights, the Balkans and the major issues that affect our security.

And I would like to make a very specific reference to Afghanistan.  Gen. Jones, I know what’s at stake in Afghanistan for all of us.  Spain knows it well.  We have just lost one of our men, John Felipe Romero Meneses, in an ambush with a landmine.  We’re speaking now of 90 Spanish soldiers who have died in Afghanistan – the fourth country in terms of casualties – and I would like to pay them homage, as I would like to do to all of the American soldiers and any soldier who has lost his or her life.

It is a very difficult mission, but it is our resolve to remain there and to help the country recover and to achieve security and to build a democracy.  As Gen. Jones has mentioned, my government has heeded the call of President Obama for the new strategy in Afghanistan.  We will be requesting from our parliament a surge by 500 new soldiers.  And in doing so, Europe will be contributing over 30,000 troops in that difficult mission to return Afghanistan to the Afghans, but with acceptable conditions of security and freedom.

When we speak of Atlantic security, we need to talk about NATO.  NATO is redefining its objectives.  This is a process that will have a highlight at the next summit to be held in Lisbon.  As you know, at the summit in Strasbourg in 2009, the heads of state and government of NATO entrusted Sec.-Gen. Rasmussen a new strategic concept for NATO.  This new concept must be concluded at the Lisbon summit.

Some principles must be very clear in this new strategic concept of NATO.  NATO is defensive in nature.  The resources and assets of the alliance are not against any country and it’s an organization that does not consider any country to be its enemy.  The alliance does not affirm or recognize a sphere of influence.  On the contrary, NATO defends the right of nations to exercise their legitimate sovereignty, and independently so, within its in borders.

Thirdly, NATO governments are open to a relationship of cooperation with its neighbors, and also with Russia.  Fourthly, NATO – it’s necessary to recall this – is an alliance of democracies.  Therefore, we would like this new concept, this new strategy of NATO that will be replacing the current one, which dates back to 1999, for it to include and to take into account NATO’s new reality because NATO now has 28 member states as compared to the 18 it had in 1999.

It is absolutely clear that this new strategy must pay attention to elements such as the nuclear proliferation.  And we are happy with the initiatives of President Obama regarding nuclear disarmament.  And we consider it especially important for dialogue with Russia to make progress.  And then there’s piracy, which is dangerously spilling over to new areas.  And then we have energy matters and security.

All these different fronts require a clear strategic vision, a European commitment and the commitment of all the members of the alliance so as to provide a strategic horizon of greater security.  In that strategic horizon of greater security, we must necessarily count on the new actors.  Security in the international community is primarily the responsibility of the Security Council of the United Nations, of the United States, of the European community, of Atlantic understanding.  And with that vision future perspective which is broader taking Latin America and Africa into account, yes.  But we also in order to have more effective security, we need to have a much broader dialogue with the new and powerful players in the international arena.

It is evident that confronting the situation in Afghanistan – a difficult area, I’ve been there, it’s difficult – we must be inclusive of China and Russia in that commitment in the dialogue for our collective security.  The mission will be a long one.  It is not something that can be done overnight.  But the Atlantic vision, the vision of the allied democracies, that very close link we have, deserves tabling it as a new factor in our security strategy.

And I would like to conclude, to finish by saying that Atlantic security has given very positive fruit for extending democracy.  And that’s our first consideration.  And there, the United States plays an essential role.  And the EU has seen how, in a very short period of time, very many new democracies have joined.

Secondly, in that new role for NATO and for security from the Atlantic relationships perspective, we must expand our area of action.  We must include the African and the Latin American perspectives.  And in order to make this possible, Europe is essential and – if you may allow me – Spain, most particularly.  The challenge of international terrorism requires dual positioning:  one, the position of combating terrorism as we are doing in Afghanistan, but also the combat with ideas, the understanding among cultures.

And finally, let us renew the Atlantic alliance in its new strategic concept.  We need to assume that NATO today plays an entirely different role from the role it played during the Cold War.  And let us endeavor to build a new relationship, a new bridge for the international actors that may prove to be determining, such as Russia and China, in areas as important as the Middle East, that is close to us.

Spain assumes its responsibilities as the eighth economic power in the world in the arena of collective security.  And it does so as one of the countries that contributes to the stabilization forces, peace forces or security forces – be it under the leadership of the U.N. in Lebanon where now the 12,000 soldiers are under a Spanish commander or be it in Afghanistan with ISAF or other parts of the world.

We are up to the challenge of what we are as a country.  As a country, we are an interlocutor with very unique potential in very many areas of the world.  And in that dialogue we will always be serving solidarity and trust with the United States from a European Union that must gain in commitment, capacity and in responsibility taking in security and collective defense matters.  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

MR. KEMPE:  I will say that that was not only a very enlightening speech but, in several respects, inspiring.  And inspiring because of this vision of a new trans-Atlantic community.  This call for enlarging our vision, particularly Latin America and West Africa and, of course, many more elements that I’m sure the audience will raise questions about.  And I’ll start with a couple of questions of my own.

The Atlantic Council’s mission is renewing the Atlantic community for global challenges.  What you’ve done is you’ve further defined what we’re trying to do, so you’re going to also inspire our work.  And we launched a center this year, the Michael Ansari Center for Africa.  I suppose we must now launch a center for Latin America as well.  But thank you for those inspiring words.

But let me ask you a question off of that.  Can you be more specific?  What do you want to do with the United States and the European Union in Africa and Latin America that’s not being done now?  And particularly, is there anything you can do during your presidency that would lock in this new agenda and give it some sort of concrete momentum?

PRIME MIN. ZAPATERO:  Well, the idea stems from a fact I’ve seen – an Atlantic vision, an enlarged vision, means that we understand the world’s new reality after overcoming a historical dialectic that was characterized by the Cold War, when we represented the bastion of democracy.  And now it isn’t only the bastion vis-à-vis a geographical area; it should be the bastion of extending democracy and security as a concept that in certain regions requires this and needs to grow and extend.

And why Latin America?  Well, because there are other actors in the world who want to strengthen their relationship, but probably not through a concept of shared collective security.  Why Africa, and especially Northern Africa?  Because it’s a fact that it is a growing risk area where terrorism – Islamic terrorism – is extending.

There are countries that need to feel closer to the Atlantic security.  This can be through NATO’s Mediterranean dialogue, but that still needs to be worked on.  It can be through a greater integration with the instruments that Europe has in the pipeline for partnership in association in the Mediterranean.  During this specific period of time, to answer your question, we will be holding the first summit of the Union for the Mediterranean – EU and the Union for the Mediterranean.

Energy is at the very heart of the subjects to be dealt with at that summit.  If we are capable of extending our ties and our cooperation to the Mediterranean area, the Atlantic vision will have had more elements of security in place.  This is our vision from Spain and it’s an asset that Spain can contribute and it’s an incipient debate in Europe and it’s a debate that we would like to make inclusive in our relationship with the United States.

MR. KEMPE:  Mr. President, before I ask you a second question, some in the audience will notice I’m calling you Mr. President.  Some call you Mr. Prime Minister.  At the Wall Street Journal, we actually had to do a linguistic and political investigation for our style book and we decided that you were both because you’re the prime minister – translated into English – but you’re also the president of the Spanish government.  And we thought that a more direct translation from Spanish will allow me tonight to call you Mr. President.  So thank you.

You talked about the European Union as a unique construct that has weathered a lot of storms.  It is currently facing an economic storm and Spain is in the middle of it, where Spain, perhaps not correctly, is being weighted down a little bit by the situation in Greece.  Your economy is expected to shrink 0.6 percent this year.  The euro and so on as a whole will grow only 1 percent.  Spanish unemployment is growing.  Could you talk about how deep this challenge is for Europe in general, how deep it is for you and how does this impact your plans for an EU-wide economic strategy?

PRIME MIN. ZAPATERO:  The financial crisis has had effects in every developed nation and in the European Union, too.  But it must be said that Spain, like the immense majority of the European countries in the euro zone, is a strong and solid country.  It is a country that in these last 25 years has shown its ability to grow and its ability to handle its public resources well in government.

Every uncertainty dropped regarding the euro – first, talking about Greece, a country that I support as a European, because Greece is in Europe.  And all 27 Europeans will be supporting Greece because that’s what Europe is all about, and that is now being extended to other countries all come from areas outside the euro zone – that do not belong to the euro zone – areas that use other currencies.  The euro is a success story.  It’s a strong currency.  It’s endowed us with a stability and it will continue doing so for the European Union and Spain.

I’ll make two remarks about Spain.  First, Spain’s financial system is robust, strong.  It’s the only developed country that has not seen any bank in crisis.  No bank has collapsed.  And we have the leading bank – the first bank in the euro zone.  This is the most serious financial crisis in over 80 years.  Wouldn’t that be a strong country – a country that has proven to be this resilient under this serious storm?  It is a country where we – government has not had to inject money into the financial system, which is in itself a guarantee.  It is a guarantee of our commitment to reducing our public deficit.

Spain is 20 points below the European average in terms of the debt-to-GDP ratio.  Therefore, our strength is beyond doubt and time will prove that these attempts, where there’s always a great degree of speculation and short-term benefits, are totally groundless.  The European Union is going to be approving a strategic – an economic strategy for 2020 with two aims – economic recovery and recovery of jobs as soon as possible, and gaining in innovation, which is so necessary for Europe.

In relative terms, when compared to the United States and other countries around the world, we have not had the same ability to improve Europe’s productivity and that is the great challenge.  In order to make it possible, our strategy has to be demanding in research, development, innovation, education and training, and technological policies and energy policy and in tackling the challenges of climate change.  That will be the economic strategy that we will be approving this first half of the year for 2020 and what is the path to be followed to bring our economic policies closer.

You know that the monetary policy of the European Union is not up to the governments.  It’s in the hands of the European Central Bank.  But the single currency brings with it more common policies – or should – from the macroeconomic standpoint, from the standpoint of the market where this currency is in use and from the standpoint of the fundamental parameters of very specific business sectors.

So this is our challenge but I need to recall here that the EU amounts to 22 percent of world GDP.  It’s the first truly commercial power in the world.  And in very many sectors, we have the leading companies.  We will be meeting our responsibilities and most definitely Spain – Spain will certainly do so.

MR. KEMPE:  Okay, I see the first question already.  The gentleman in the red coat.  If you could – okay, then after that – keep your – because of translation, please keep your questions short; keep them concise and just for after we end this gathering, if you’d put your translation devices on your chair and just leave them afterwards, that would be the simplest thing to do, please.

Q:  My name is Gustau Alegret.  I’m a journalist from RAOC-1, from Catalan Radio Station.  Let me start by saying thank you to the Atlantic Council for this opportunity to ask my question to the prime minister of Spain.  And if you don’t mind, I’m going to switch to Spain (sic) because I’d like to ask him directly.

[Note:  The following remarks are delivered via translator.]

Mr. President, you talked about leadership.  You said that Europe and the United States should strengthen their ties recently.  Spain isn’t at its best right now.  Recently, you went to Davos and the Davos Forum questioned the situation in Spain.

Through the Wall Street Journal this week – and this was later confirmed by the White House – we found out that Obama will not be present at the European summit that you are so carefully preparing.  Unemployment figures in Spain are up to 20 percent; unions are against the proposals you’re tabling.

Well, I’ve gone through all this to say that your leadership seems to be challenged and you’re talking about leadership in the United States and in Europe.  I would like to know whether you feel challenged.  And to finish, I would like to say that there was a poll published today in Spain.  Your rating has dropped.  I want to know what you think about your leadership, whether you think it’s being challenged and what’s your future strategy regarding the Spanish economy?  Thank you very much.

PRIME MIN. ZAPATERO:  Your question is very closely related to trans-Atlantic security, yes it is, but the vote at political responsibility is given by our citizens and the Socialist Party has won two elections.  And that is what can be defined as leadership:  the trust of our citizens.

And governments, sometimes, are easier than others.  Obviously, I cannot hide that this is not an easy time.  There are essentially economic challenges of great magnitude for Spain and for so many other countries.  But I trust Spanish society implicitly and I also have confidence in the political project I represent and I know we will be recovering the vigor, the strength of Spain, for which it is respected and considered around the world – here and in many others.

And I’m not going to be opening up a debate on certain opinions on the Spanish economy that, to be honest, I do not share and that come from outside Spain, and in my opinion are made with lack of knowledge and groundlessly.  And you will have the opportunity to see that for yourself.

We are living through times – when these things influence the markets, they influence expectations; they influence confidence.  But the foundations of Spain’s strength are solid.  We know where we want to go, we know the reforms we need to make and I am certain that our society, Spanish society, will be with us.  And leadership, yes, of course, sometimes means taking the most difficult road.

MR. KEMPE:  And one could have almost imagined that question being asked of President Obama in almost the exact same words in a presidential press conference here.

Q:  Hi, I’m Reggie Dale of the CSIS here in Washington.  I won’t ask a question that would have gone to President Obama.  Two clarifications, if I could.  In this new NATO relationship with Latin America and North Africa/West Africa, are you thinking that these countries would be members of NATO or would they be in the Partnership for Peace?  What would be the institutional link?

Second question:  You mentioned the Treaty of Lisbon and I’m wondering if you consider that the Treaty of Lisbon empowers the country holding the rotating presidency to convene summit meetings with foreign leaders.

PRIME MIN. ZAPATERO:  Regarding your first question, I have not spoken about NATO in our relationship with Latin America or Africa.  I’ve talked about a more general Atlantic relationship in Europe, Spain and the United States and working on that perspective but not taking this to NATO directly.

The Lisbon Treaty strengthens the European Union, to answer your second question.  For those of you who are not European, it’s difficult to explain and we have a shared presidency system.  We have a rotating presidency and a permanent presidency.  The permanent president represents the council and therefore the European Union abroad.  The rotating presidency, in this case and now, Spain, produces the work program for its six months.

Now, in coordination with the two future presidencies – Belgium and Hungary – a work program for 18 months, therefore, that include the different items in the economy, energy, justice and home affairs and security that we want to make possible, that we debate at the European Council, needs to be taken to the European Parliament.

EU summits, held every six months, are planned well in advance, as is only obvious.  Before we had the permanent council, the rotating presidency planned on its own in coordination with the commission of the different summits, and that is what Spain did.  And it had the competence to do so because to plan and program summits – and I suppose you’re referring to the possible summit with the United States – there’s an accepted system already, a tradition of a yearly EU-U.S. summit.  And the Spanish presidency had done its homework and had seen what dates could be the most appropriate for that summit.

We know that President Obama and his administration have a very, very busy agenda, and if there’s anything that President Obama has paid attention to, it’s Europe – European Union.  He’s paid seven visits; he’s met each and every European leader in a very interesting session.  And we know that Europe is a priority for President Obama.  We will be holding the EU-U.S. summit when the agendas so allow.

And when I say “agenda,” I don’t mean dates; I mean the contents of the agenda that we both – the EU and the United States – want to be rich and dense, and no European thinks neither governments nor citizens – and I think it’s quite well-known that President Obama is very liked in Europe and we do not think that he has lost interest in the European Union.  On the contrary, I am absolutely certain that when the summit does take place, its contents will be substantial.

And it’s good for Americans to know that you have a president that, in Europe, has all doors open to him.  We have trust in him, and continue to have the same trust we had when he was first elected.  And we work arm-in-arm, hand-in-hand, with President Obama’s administration.

Q:  Mr. President, thank you very much.  I’m Harlan Ullman for the Atlantic Council.  You spoke forcefully on a number of issues.  My question concerns both Afghanistan and the strategic concept.  NATO has bet, as you know, much of its future on what happens in Afghanistan.  So how much do you think the strategic concept ought to incorporate Afghanistan, or is the issue so hot that maybe it’s best left alone?

MR. KEMPE:  Let me actually add a question to that.  You spoke quite movingly about the – Spain’s loss of your 90th soldier in Afghanistan.  And during your last meeting with President Obama, you said our engagement in Afghanistan is firm, solid.  How do leaders in your position across Europe, where the support for this war is not great, bolster that?  What is the message you send?  How much of a problem is public opinion in this respect?  So it’s really two questions – quite different ones – dealing with Afghanistan.

PRIME MIN. ZAPATERO:  Well, I do understand that Afghanistan should be in the strategic concept.  And Europe – I looked at the figures earlier – has over 30,000 soldiers in Afghanistan. To President Obama’s new calling with the new strategy, very many countries have responded.  Germany is going to be offering 800 new soldiers, Spain will be contributing 500 and many other countries will be contributing more soldiers.  And it’s true that among our public opinion and our societies in Europe it’s not something that’s easy to explain.

But my knowledge of what the European Union governments think enables me to say that European governments are firmly committed to Afghanistan with the United States.  And we know that results will only be obtained in the long term and that we need to persevere in our strategy.  But we know that under no circumstance can we leave Afghanistan in the hands of al-Qaida and radical Taliban.

MR. KEMPE:  A question here.

Q:  Thank you very much.  I’m Garth Trinkl, Department of Commerce.  You mentioned the Atlantic Council would like to expand its Atlantic vision to include both North and West Africa as well as Latin America.  Could you begin to tie in your expanded vision of the Atlantic Council with the newly formed G-20 process, which has a series of meetings going on in February and June, and then next fall in Korea?

Is there a role in this Atlantic vision for Japan, for India, for Korea and Australia, which are large parts of the international donor committee?  Looking at this in economic, international economic terms, as opposed to geopolitical terms, how do you see this enlarged Atlantic vision merging with this G-20 process?

PRIME MIN. ZAPATERO:  Well, everything responds to one same concept.  The concept is:  If we want the century we have ahead of us to enjoy more stability, more security from the standpoint of peace, the extension of democracy, the reduction of conflict and also from the economic standpoint, we need to include more players, some of which have never played a role in collective security issues internationally.  Others have played a minor role.  In recent times, especially after the fall of the Berlin Wall, this affects the Atlantic relationship – the alliance in terms of collective security and economic security.

Today, the interest of the Atlantic vision calls for including new actors, makes it advisable.  And I have referred to two specific areas, but I have done so because in speaking of two areas where Spain can take the initiative – Latin America and Africa.  I’m not excluding others, but this shared strategy – this shared responsibility – is something to which Spain can contribute in these two areas from the economic standpoint.

Let’s see what the G-20 has to offer us; what it can do.  Is it a forum with a model with sufficient representation capacity?  Yes, in my opinion, it does – 80, 85 percent of world economies, with Spain, of course, in it.  And the idea that was considered at the beginning to have a sort of economic security council in the sphere of the G-20 can contribute to expanding economic security.  This requires reforms, of course, in the IMF.  Representivity (sic) of countries – many emerging countries – needs to be changed; there needs to be reforms in the World Bank to consolidate the decisions of the G-20.

As far as I know, my impression is that both the United States and most of the G-20 countries – the founders of the G-20 – have the intention and the objective to consolidate the forum.  And insofar as the participation of emerging countries, of new actors, becomes more intense in every sense, we will be working towards collective security.

MR. KEMPE:  I’m afraid we’ve run out of time, and I apologize.  There are a lot more people who have got hands up and I’m sorry to disappoint you.  I just want to say in closing before we thank you – and I thank you on behalf of the audience – that this new vision for the Atlantic community is a compelling one.  It makes a lot of sense in a lot of different ways.

I think the question in the end was a right one, as how does the quote, unquote, something we used to call the “free world” work better with each other?  Morocco has also been promoting the notion of a tri-Atlantic initiative.  And if you look at the map, the Atlantic Ocean does wash up on all of those shores, so it does make some sense.

So thank you for that vision, but also thank you for touching on a great many other things – G-20, the economic issues, the questions of Afghanistan – and really illustrating for us not only the centrality of Spain in its EU presidency, but the centrality of Spain.  Thank you so much, and on behalf of the audience.  (Applause.)

Transcript by Federal News Service, Washington, D.C.

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