WASHINGTON – President Bush scolded Spain's new prime minister Monday for his swift withdrawal of troops from Iraq and told him to avoid actions that give "false comfort to terrorists or enemies of freedom in Iraq."
Bush expressed his views in a five-minute telephone call with Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero (search), who on Sunday ordered the 1,300 troops to return home as soon as possible.
Zapatero placed the call to Bush and the president "expressed his regret to President Zapatero about the decision to abruptly announce the pullout of Spanish troops from Iraq (search)," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said.
"The president urged that the Spanish withdrawal take place in a coordinated manner that does not put at risk other coalition forces in Iraq," McClellan said.
"The president stressed the importance of carefully considering future actions to avoid giving false comfort to terrorists or enemies of freedom in Iraq," McClellan said.
Separately, Sen. John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, also deplored Spain's move.
"I regret Prime Minister Zapateros decision," Kerry said. "Spain and all the world have an interest in rebuilding an Iraq that is not a haven for terrorists and a failed state. I had hoped the prime minister would have reconsidered his position, and I hope that in the days ahead the United States and the world can work with him to find a way to keep Spain engaged in the efforts in Iraq."
""Rather than losing partners, I believe its critical that we find new coalition partners to share the burden in Iraq," Kerry said. "We need to offer to share responsibilities with the United Nations, NATO (search) and others, so they will work with us in Iraq to achieve security, stability, and freedom."
Zapatero issued the recall on Sunday just hours after his government was sworn in. He said there was no sign the United States would meet his demand for United Nations control of the postwar occupation - his ultimatum for keeping troops there.
Zapatero's Socialist party won the March 14 general election amid allegations that outgoing Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar (search), by backing the war in Iraq, had provoked commuter-train terrorist bombings that killed 191 people three days before the vote.
Though Zapatero, a 43-year-old lawyer and career politician, had promised to remove Spanish troops, his immediate action was a setback for the United States, which has been eager to portray the effort in Iraq as an international cause even though it is dominated by its 130,000 American troops.
Spain's foreign minister, Miguel Moratinos Moratinos, is to travel to Washington to discuss the dispute with Secretary of State Colin Powell. He was scheduled to leave Tuesday.
McClellan refused to characterize the tone of the two leaders' exchange, but Bush's words were unusually sharp by any standard.
Asked if the discussion was chilly or businesslike, McClellan said, "No, look, I think we've made it very clear we'll continue to work with Spain in the war on terrorism. Obviously the president expressed his regret at the abrupt decision to withdraw. But the coalition in Iraq is strong. We appreciate recent statements by many of the coalition nations expressing their solidarity and resolve."