Blair's secret advice to Zapatero on ETA talks

Former British Prime Minister told Spanish counterpart to seek commitment, not disbandment

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair believes that for any peace process to be successful ETA must make a public commitment to cease its violence and later disband. Blair said the same experience that took place in Northern Ireland can be applied to the Basque Country.

Many are calling for ETA to disband and say that terrorism cannot end unless the group definitely dissolves.

Blair had told Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero before the last unsuccessful peace negotiations in 2006 that he should concentrate on winning a commitment from ETA to renounce its violence and not so much on its breakup. He made his recommendations in a confidential report that Zapatero asked for following the successful peace negotiations with the IRA in July 2005.

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The recommendation is backed by the panel of mediators that met in San Sebastián earlier this month in an event that was organized by Lokarri, the international social organization headed by South African lawyer and mediator Brian Currin to promote peaceful coexistence in the Basque Country.Blair sent his former Cabinet chief Jonathan Powell to the meeting.

In the report that Blair sent to Zapatero, the British government recognized that it committed an error in demanding first that IRA disband instead of concentrating its efforts on an end to the violence.

In Spain, the last two peace negotiations with ETA in 2005 and in 1998, under then-Prime Minister José María Aznar, both concentrated on the dissolution of ETA. ETA and the Basque radical abertzale left believe that there can been no disbandment until the last ETA prisoner is released from jail.

The same occurred in Northern Ireland when the IRA declined to disband until the issue of prisoners was discussed.

In a column published in the International Herald Tribune on October 22, Blair wrote that the new incoming government in Spain "will have to take on the hard work of clearing up the consequences of the conflict."

"This is the point in the peace process when the participants often collapse in exhaustion - but it is when efforts need to be redoubled," wrote Blair, who served as prime minister from 1997 to 2007. He also praised Zapatero's efforts.

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