Transcript: Jose Maria Aznar on 'Fox News Sunday'

The following is an excerpt from FOX News Sunday, April 18, 2004.

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, FOX NEWS SUNDAY: Jose Maria Aznar stepped down this week as prime minister of Spain. He was retiring after two terms in office. But his final days were controversial, with his decision to send 1,300 Spanish troops to Iraq and then the brutal terrorist attack of 3/11.

Earlier this week, I traveled to Madrid for an exclusive interview with Aznar, who may have been leaving power but still has strong opinions.

We went to interview Prime Minister Aznar at the Moncloa Palace, the residence of the head of the Spanish government since the 1860s.

It was a bittersweet day for Aznar. His conservative government held power for eight years. But after the bombings in Madrid on 3/11, Spanish voters elected a socialist leader, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, whose campaign was based on a pledge to pull Spanish troops from Iraq.

As Aznar sat down for our interview, this change in power and policy was very much on his mind.


WALLACE: The new prime minister, Mr. Zapatero, continues to say that he will pull Spanish troops out of Iraq by June 30th unless there is a U.N. mandate. What will be the fallout from that?

JOSE MARIA AZNAR, FORMER SPANISH PRIME MINISTER (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): That will not be good for Spain, not a good day for the coalition, and a very good day for those who don't want stability and democracy in Iraq.

WALLACE: What will the message be that is sent to the terrorists if Spain drops out of the coalition, pulls its troops out of Iraq?

AZNAR (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): It will be a very bad message. It would be a message of having managed to achieve their objectives. The only message that terrorists need to get is that they're going to be beaten.

WALLACE: Some people are comparing it to the appeasement of Adolf Hitler before World War II.

AZNAR (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): There are countries that prefer to think that they're buying comfort at the cost of others, but I don't think that's the way you can act in this world. There are no neutral groups. Either you're with us, or you're with them.

And those who try to be neutral, I think, are the ones who are going to be paying the highest price. The terrorists are not going to forgive them, and they will have no understanding from those who are fighting against terrorism.

WALLACE: But, Mr. Prime Minister, Mr. Zapatero had a platform. This is apparently the will of the Spanish people, to pull out of Iraq.

AZNAR (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Yes, that's correct. But, you know, once you're in government, very often you need to shoulder responsibility. I hope the new Spanish government will think about this and will therefore act accordingly. I really and sincerely hope so.


WALLACE: The events in Madrid last month could not have been more dramatic. Aznar's Popular Party was favored to win the election until March 11th, when the bombing of four commuter trains killed 191 people.

Three days later, Spanish voters elected Zapatero and the Socialists.


AZNAR (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): I'm quite convinced that if those attacks, those terrible attacks, hadn't happened, the results of the elections would have been different. The Popular Party would have won these elections. I'm absolutely convinced of this. It's an emotional, immediate reaction, and that produced those results.

WALLACE: In that sense, Mr. Prime Minister, did the terrorists win here in Spain? Did they succeed in turning a democratic election?

AZNAR (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): It is obvious that these attacks were looking for a political effect, and that is the basic difference between the 11th of March and the 11th of September. Speaking quantitatively, the 11th of September was a big attack. But qualitatively speaking, this particular attack here in Madrid tried to get political objectives achieved.

Terrorists, they want to demonstrate to the governments of Madrid, Washington, or London, or Rome, terror is basically one country's to stop, to give in, to say, "OK, well, I'm not going to fight." They believe that they're buying security, and I think that's a mistake.


WALLACE: But there's another analysis of the election. After the attack, the government first blamed it on the Basque terrorist group ETA. Some have accused Aznar of trying to hide the fact that Islamic radicals were responding to his support of President Bush.


AZNAR (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): It's infamous to say that. The Spanish government said the truth. It gave all the truth, and nothing but the truth, on the basis of there were investigations that we were carrying out.

We knew that ETA terrorists wanted to attack during the election. That is why we thought it was ETA. As soon as we had trails, information that gave us all the clues, we immediately communicated this to the public.


WALLACE: We wanted to know where the investigation stands now. Almost two dozen people, mostly Moroccans, have been arrested. Six more blew themselves up as police moved in.


WALLACE: To the best of your knowledge, was this an attack by Al Qaida?

AZNAR (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): I think that this group of Moroccan cells, which has been in Spain for quite some time, and which is part of the so-called Jihad, could have relations with Al Qaida which still have to be confirmed.

But it is, however, proof of the fact you don't have a closed hierarchy of terrorists. You have terrorists of many countries working in a long-term way. Don't forget that this attack was prepared in November 2002 — November 2002, so way before, months before the conflict, the war in Iraq.

WALLACE: Forgive me, sir, because I was not aware of that. How do you know that this attack was prepared more than a year before it happened and, in fact, before the coalition even went into Iraq?

AZNAR (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Well, that is one of the conclusions which we've drawn from the investigations and the security services.

And I tell you, this was not going to be the last attack either. There was going to be another attack for last week. And, fortunately, that attack was not carried out because of the way in which the security forces intervened.

WALLACE: There is some thought that the mastermind of the attack may still be at large.

AZNAR (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): That's possible. The diabolic mind behind all of this has got to be still at large. It could even be Osama bin Laden. It could be someone from Al Qaida.


WALLACE: In the apartment that was blown up, police found a videotape in which the bombers referred to Spain as Andalusia, what it was called by the Muslim Moors before they were driven out in 1492.


AZNAR (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): So this means that Iraq, for them, was just a pretext. In the eyes of Islamic terrorism, it looks at the West, and Spain is a very special part of this parcel, because they feel that to recover Spain is to get back some of their territory.


WALLACE: Aznar takes terrorism personally. In 1995, ETA exploded a car bomb that almost killed him.

He told Fox News about a chilling warning he's delivered to his allies in the coalition: that he believes terrorists have found a powerful new weapon: to time their brutal attacks to try to turn democratic elections.


AZNAR (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): I told George Bush and Tony Blair and other political leaders to be extremely careful before elections, because terrorists will try and prevent them from reacting, and to be very vigilant, more than ever, on those two dates. That is, I think, one of the major readings you get out of what happened in March.

WALLACE: So you believe that the terrorists will try to do something to affect the United States election?

AZNAR (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Yes, it is possible, very possible. They will be as harmful as they can possibly be, if they can do it. I have absolutely no doubt in my mind.


WALLACE: Aznar feels a strong bond to the president and Blair. Last year, they met in the Azores to deliver one final ultimatum to Saddam Hussein just three days before the invasion of Iraq.

Aznar acknowledges his resolute support for the U.S. has made him very unpopular at home.


WALLACE: How do you explain the opposition in Spain and across Europe to President Bush and his policies?

AZNAR (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): President Bush is in favor of the Atlantic relationship. He is also in favor of Europe shouldering more responsibilities. Now, certain countries say, "Well, why should we get involved if they're already doing this?"

But you, the North Americans, you the Americans, you should not stand alone, because this is a fight which involves us all. It is an attack against all of us. And President Bush has understood this. Others have not understood this.

WALLACE: Is there anything that the president should do to try to ease European concerns? Some people have suggested that he come here to hold a summit on the war on terror.

AZNAR (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Well, I'm not really going to give him any advice, not even to Fox Channel. I'm not going to give President Bush any advice. He knows. He knows what I think.

WALLACE: I'd like to conclude, Mr. Prime Minister, by going back to the events of a year ago, as you were making the decision to join the coalition.

Why did you decide to join President Bush, to join the coalition and go into Iraq, despite overwhelming opposition in your country?

AZNAR (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Because the task of a political leader is to do what he believes is better for his country. Sometimes the public opinion is in favor; sometimes the public opinion needs a little bit more time to understand things.

I mean, how many British supported Churchill when he said that Hitler was a threat? How many people in how many countries have understood the threats or their leaders at a particular moment in time?

It is, of course, much better to get as much support as possible, but a political leader has a responsibility. A good political leader meets his responsibility.

WALLACE: Mr. Prime Minister, thank you so much. It is a pleasure to talk to you.