"I Don't Want To Be A Great Leader"

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YOU'VE CALLED ON ALL COALITION GOVERNMENTS TO WITHDRAW THEIR FORCES FROM IRAQ, AS SPAIN DID IN APRIL. DOES THAT MEAN YOU'RE WILLING TO ACCEPT A FUNDAMENTALIST SHI'ITE REGIME THERE OR ETHNIC CIVIL WAR? The one question we have to ask is this: Are things any better in Iraq after one-and-a-half years of occupation? The answer is, no. There's a spiral of violence and death. We have two options: close our eyes or face that reality. Now Iraq needs to recover its freedom, stability and sovereignty as soon as possible.

HOW? IS THE COALITION'S STRATEGY THE ONLY POSSIBILITY? IS IT EVEN LEGITIMATE? WHY ARE RADICALISM AND FUNDAMENTALISM INCREASING AND RISKS SPREADING? To rebuild a country like Iraq from scratch requires the effort of many countries, including Arab countries and those of the European Union. Unfortunately, the conditions we need to do that don't exist. I know that the U.S. government and its coalition allies want freedom and sovereignty for Iraq as soon as possible, but the way to fight terrorism has to be intelligent. There are responses that serve to increase terrorism, even if that isn't their intention. The first response of free, democratic nations to terrorism should be to respect international law. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said as much [last week when he called the invasion "illegal"].

WHAT MESSAGE DO YOU HAVE FOR GEORGE W. BUSH? I have three messages for him. First, that Spain is a friend of the United States. I have the greatest respect and admiration for its democratic principles and for its drive in so many fields, along with a deep solidarity for what it suffered on Sept. 11. Second, our firmness in fighting terrorism is as strong as ever. And third, that although we disagree over Iraq, a true friend is one who says what he thinks. We have more than 1,000 Spanish troops in Afghanistan, because that intervention did have the support of the international community.

ARE YOU ROOTING FOR KERRY IN THE U.S. PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS? When I took office, I decided not to comment or interfere in support of any candidate in any country. But others have not done the same. On many occasions, I heard President Bush and members of his Administration give fervent support to [former Prime Minister José María] Aznar and the Popular Party [which Zapatero's Socialists defeated in the March 14 general election]. President Bush will never hear me give any support to candidate Kerry. I do know that polls can be misleading. It's not voting intention that matters, but people's desire for a change. If that's there, you can turn it around. Sixty percent of Spaniards wanted a change two weeks before my election, before the terrorist attacks of March 11.

WOULD A KERRY ADMINISTRATION REALLY IMPROVE TRANSATLANTIC RELATIONS? He says he has a plan to withdraw [from Iraq] in four years. That is at least an alternative policy. It's true that the war in Iraq opened a distance in relations between part of Europe and the U.S. government, but our basic ties are stronger than that. We share democracy, free markets and a commitment to Western security. We differ on how to guarantee that security.

You've aligned Spain with France and Germany, but aren't you concerned that a majority of European governments don't share their position on Iraq?
I wouldn't say a majority; it's more of a draw. But public opinion in Europe is totally against the war in Iraq. I think a modern democracy should be very sensitive to public opinion. That's what I call "citizen's socialism" — I accept that when an overwhelming majority of citizens says something, they are right. Today, France, Germany and Spain have less of a unitary view of the world [than the U.S.]. We have a conception that we need a world of civilizations and understanding. The clash of civilizations can't become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

WHAT SINGLE QUESTION WOULD YOU LIKE JOSE MARIA AZNAR TO ANSWER WHEN HE TESTIFIES BEFORE THE SPANISH PARLIAMENTARY COMMISSION ON THE MARCH 11 ATTACKS? The one I asked him on the phone right after the attacks: Why didn't he immediately call a meeting of all political parties to share the response to such a cruel blow against all Spaniards?

WHAT DO YOU SAY TO OPPOSITION CHARGES THAT YOU ARE SQUANDERING THE STRONG ECONOMIC RECORD OF THE AZNAR YEARS? My government hasn't even presented a budget yet, so ask me in a year. But Spain's outlook is positive. We still will have growth above 2.5%, putting us at the head of [the E.U. average]. Judge me on my achievements so far: I formed a government with as many women [ministers] as men; I kept my word on withdrawing our troops from Iraq; I increased the minimum wage and education grants and scholarships; I've proposed new laws on gender-based violence, reform of divorce laws, homosexual marriage and extensions of civil rights. I want to increase our spending on research and development by 25%. That's something the U.S. does very well. That dynamism alongside a welfare state in the European community — that's the synthesis I want to achieve.

YOU'RE SAID TO HATE MACHISMO. WHY? I'm not just antimachismo, I'm a feminist. One thing that really awakens my rebellious streak is 20 centuries of one sex dominating the other. We talk of slavery, feudalism, exploitation, but the most unjust domination is that of one half of the human race over the other half. The more equality women have, the fairer, more civilized and tolerant society will be. Sexual equality is a lot more effective against terrorism than military strength.

The best destination for Spain's constitutional reform is a majority agreement of citizens on a model for all the parts of Spain to co-exist. Spain is a pluralistic and diverse country, and that diversity flourishes in political debate, too. Extremadura has different interests from Madrid or Catalonia. The central government has to integrate those interests, but it's a positive thing that people are free to express their opinions.

SO WHAT'S YOUR IDEA OF LEADERSHIP? The economic, social and cultural progress of a nation depends on citizens counting for more and having more rights. That's the essence of my policy. Democratic power is the only voice most citizens have. The corporations and the media don't need power; they already have it. I said when I came into office that I don't want to be a great leader; I want to be a good democrat.