Spain launches UN initiative to fight radical Islam

Palma, Spain - Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero on Sunday hosted the first meeting of a UN ‘alliance of civilisations’ initiative designed to join Western and Muslim states to fight radical Islam and ‘close the breach’ between the Western and Islamic world.

Zapatero was notably accompanied by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose role as the leader of a mainly Muslim state is highly symbolic within the initiative, proposed by the Spanish leader last year.

"Former rivalry" between the Christian and Turkish empires "has been transformed into a positive association," Zapatero said. "We want to close off the sources of extremism and win the battle of ideas and principles," he told the high-level group launch meeting.

Zapatero expressed cautious optimism that the Euromed partnership states meeting in Barcelona on Sunday and Monday could reach an accord on combating the spread of terrorism. "I hope we will reach agreement on the code at the summit," said Zapatero, before heading to Barcelona. "I will devote all my efforts to ensure this summit is a success," he added.

Erdogan, himself convicted of Islamist sedition before becoming Turkey’s prime minister, said extremism was not confined to any one religion and terrorists might attack any target regardless of its culture.

"Together we are planting a seed for an Alliance of Civilisations to grow in our world, and this will help the seeds of hundreds of thousands of Alliances of Civilisations to flourish," Erdogan told a news conference.

Erdogan said he believed there exists "a confusion" between terrorism and armed resistance to occupation. "To end this confusion, the United Nations must take their responsibilities. With a UN buffer force there will no longer be any possible confusion," Erdogan said.

The "alliance," promoted as a counterpoint to the United States’ more forthright anti-terrorist strategy, has found a receptive ear in UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, as well as Turkey and 22 other countries.

The high-level group also includes former Iranian president Mohammad Khatamei, South African Nobel Peace Prize-winning Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Andre Azoulay, aide to Morocco’s King Mohamed VI, former French foreign minister Hubert Vedrine and outgoing Inter-American Development Bank head Enrique Iglesias.

The group, co-chaired by Spanish former UNESCO director-general Federico Mayor and Turkish minister of state and theology Mehmet Aydin, is due to come up with several recommendations next year.