Wednesday, September 14, 2005

ZAPATERO'S 'dialogue': visionary or just stupid?, wonders a quite skeptical James Badcock in Lebanon's Daily Star, regarding Zapaterlain's proposal for an Alliance of Civilizations he threw last year but which development he'll be defending before UN's General Assembly later today:
In the post-September 11 climate, few people are talking of world peace. In an age when the words "military response" and sometimes "negotiated settlement" are everyday terms, it is fair to say that Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's Alliance of Civilizations initiative, born a year ago at the 2004 General Assembly of the United Nations, has not set the world alight.

In the year that has followed Zapatero's debut speech at the UN headquarters in New York, the move to build a bridge between the Western and Arab-Muslim worlds has largely fallen on deaf ears, and has even been the object of derision. However, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has lent his support and patronage to the fledgling alliance, and will at this week's General Assembly announce plans to take the initiative forward with the setting up of a high-level group of international figures.

[...] Zapatero's acceptance of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as official co-sponsor of the initiative reflects the isolation in which the Spanish leader has found himself regarding policy toward Muslims and terrorism among his more senior European colleagues. For the moderate Islamist Erdogan, there is an obvious need to re-emphasize Turkey's credentials as a "bridge" between East and West on the eve of the start of accession talks for its possible entry into the European Union.

When Zapatero traveled to London to meet Tony Blair three weeks after the July 7 bomb attacks in the city, however, the British prime minister's response was polite but somewhat dismissive. Blair gave his backing to the Alliance of Civilizations initiative but when asked if he would then work to persuade Bush of its worth, he snapped that he was not a White House spokesman, adding that he hardly saw how Bush or anyone else could have anything against such an apparently innocuous platitude.

Clearly, Zapatero's obvious enjoyment of rhetoric for its own sake can make his forays into foreign policy seem more than a little naive. On the other hand, thanks partly to the presence in the Spanish government of former EU special envoy to the Middle East, Miguel Angel Moratinos, as foreign minister, besides Zapatero's major personal commitment to enhanced relations with Morocco and Algeria, Madrid's credit with Muslim nations is riding high.
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