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Viewing cable 04MADRID2215, AZNAR KEPT UNDER WRAPS IN EU PARLIAMENT ELECTION

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
04MADRID2215 2004-06-14 12:12 2010-12-03 12:12 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Madrid
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MADRID 002215

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/14/2014
TAGS: PGOV PREL PTER SP
SUBJECT: AZNAR KEPT UNDER WRAPS IN EU PARLIAMENT ELECTION
CAMPAIGN CENTERED ON IRAQ, US TIES


Classified By: Polcouns Kathleen Fitzpatrick, per 1.4 (b) and (d).

Summary

1. (C) Jose Maria Aznar did not participate in the Popular
Party's campaign for the June 13 EU parliamentary election.
With the Socialists making the war in Iraq and distancing
Spanish foreign policy from the US their central campaign
issues, Popular Party leaders decided that Aznar was too
radioactive to help in the campaign. Aznar insiders tell us
that Aznar recognized this as well, but is confident time
will ultimately vindicate his policies. Many in the PP
regarded Aznar's May visit to the US, which included a
private meeting with President Bush, as inopportune. They
believe the visit give the Socialists ammunition in their
efforts to portray the PP as a tool of the US. Following his
US visit, Aznar avoided the media and focused on presiding
over the PP think tank (FAES) and learning English in
preparation for speaking engagements. On June 13, the
Popular Party succeeded in beating expectations and came
within two points of the Socialists in the EU election. End
Summary.

Aznar Radioactive

2. (C) Aznar's longtime associate and former State Secretary
for Communication Alfredo Timmermans told us recently that
Aznar's decision to play no public role in the June 13 EU
parliament election campaign was his choice, but that it also
reflected the preference of PP leaders. The Socialists
(PSOE) sought a repeat of their March 14 surprise election
victory and played up themes that had worked for them,
notably opposition to the Iraq war and Aznar's close
relations with the US. Timmermans said that Aznar was
fully aware that he was politically radioactive and, as a
result, kept a low profile. His only public activities were
to appear at signings of new his book recounting his years in
office. (Timmermans noted sales are going well and the book
is now in its second printing.)

"Photo of the Azores"

3. (C) A Socialist refrain from the EU parliament election
campaign was the need to correct "the photo of the Azores."
To them, the March 2003 Azores summit stands for committing
Spain to an Iraq conflict that the Spanish public wanted no
part of and for allying with the US instead of France and
Germany.

4. (C) For this reason, there was unease in the PP when
Aznar visited the US in May 2004, only weeks after stepping
down from office. While PP leaders stated that Aznar had a
right to travel where he wished, many, including Aznar
loyalists, felt that given the EU election Aznar should have
postponed the trip until after June 13. Timmermans told us
that many in the PP wanted Aznar to "stay home and say
nothing." Timmermans said Aznar understood that he is, for
the present, a divisive figure but that he is confident time
will vindicate his policies toward Iraq and the US.
Timmermans said Aznar was buoyed by the warm reception he
received in the US and, in particular, by his meeting with
President Bush. Timmermans contrasted this warmth with the
reticence Aznar has encountered from some in the Popular
Party since March 14.

Aznar's Messages to the US

5. (C) Timmermans noted that Aznar had expressed concern to
President Bush that the March 11 Madrid terrorist attacks had
sent a message to terrorists that they can influence
elections. Aznar urged vigilance in advance of US
elections. Aznar believes al Qaeda inspired terrorists
might also target countries like Italy where public opinion
is vulnerable. Timmermans said Aznar believes the US has
to brace for continued bad news from Iraq and came away with
the impression that some US observers may be too optimistic
about the medium term outlook. Timmermans said an election
defeat by President Bush in November would be read, rightly
or wrongly, in Spain as a defeat for the Popular Party and
would give the Socialists a boost.

6. (C) Timmermans said the PP, Aznar included, continues to
be "astonished" by the chain of events from the March 11
terrorist attacks to surprise election defeat on March 14.
Many Popular Party members, Timmermans said, blame Aznar's
Iraq policy for the defeat and believe Aznar gambled with the
party's future on Iraq and lost. Like other Spaniards (80
percent according to some polls), most PP members were not
sorry to see the Spanish troops come home, Timmermans said.

7. (C) Timmermans underlined that Aznar remains unyielding
in his beliefs. Aznar will continue to support the Iraq war
and say publicly that the Madrid terrorist attacks on March
11 brought the Socialists to power. Timmermans (speaking
before June 13) noted that President Zapatero is still in the
honeymoon phase and thus the PSOE would have an important
electoral advantage. Zapatero has not had to make any
unpopular decisions and his one major decision ) to pull the
troops out ) was highly popular. Timmermans said that all
of Zapatero's decisions are taken with one idea in mind:
doing what is popular.

Aznar's Future

8. (C) Aznar is confident that in the longer term, he will
be vindicated, Timmermans said. However, the current period
is a difficult one for the PP and for Aznar personally. In
the coming year, Aznar intends to travel frequently to the
US. While based in Spain, he will make speeches to US
audiences and teach occasional seminars at Georgetown.
Aznar is working hard on his English and is presiding over
the Popular Party think tank, FAES. Timmermans said Aznar
will make it a point to speak out in favor of the
transatlantic link and the need for close relations with the
United States.

June 13: PP Exceeds Expectations, On Road to Recovery

9. (C) Popular Party strategists told us in the run up to
the June 13 election that the PP goal was to keep the race
close. None said that they expected to win, but they did
hope to cut the Socialist margin. Polling had given the
Socialists a 6 to 9 point advantage. The June 13 result was
far tighter: the Socialists won by only two points. PP
leaders regard this as a relative victory. Jorge Moragas,
PP Director for International Affairs, told us that the
result at least succeeded in giving a "shock" to the
over-confidence of the Socialists and is a signal the PP is
on the road to recovery.
MANZANARES