Foreign Minister of Spain, 2002-2004
David A. Harris
Executive Director, American Jewish Committee
Washington, D.C., May 7, 2004
Our first meeting with Ana Palacio was in September 2002, barely two months after she was appointed foreign minister of Spain.
We plunged right into a fascinating conversation.
I'm a veteran of many meetings, but seldom do I recall such a feeling of almost instant chemistry, certainly on our part. We felt we were in the presence of someone quite special.
Here was a foreign minister willing to speak openly and candidly, and not according to a predetermined script.
Here was a foreign minister who clearly wrestled in her own mind with difficult issues and wasn't afraid to acknowledge it.
Here was a foreign minister animated by an unmistakable sense of purpose and guided by a deeply held set of principles.
And here was a foreign minister who was a keen listener, eager to hear other points of view and to engage in the give-and-take of lively discussion.
With the press of everyone's schedule, we didn't have nearly enough time together that day. Fortunately, however, it turned out to be only the first in a series of meetings, including long lunches and dinners late into the night-and with Spaniards "late" takes on a whole new meaning-that took place between Minister Palacio and the American Jewish Committee in Madrid, New York, Washington, and, most recently, Brussels, not to mention numerous phone calls in between.
Our discussions ranged over many topics-from the search for Arab-Israeli peace to the war in Iraq, from the menace of global terrorism to Israel's treatment at the UN, and from the state of transatlantic relations to the challenge of European integration, including Turkey's possible accession to the EU.
One thing was abundantly clear each time we spoke with Minister Palacio: We were in the presence of a statesman, not a politician.
The difference is more than just semantic.
As Charles de Gaulle said, "The true statesman is the one who is willing to take risks."
Risks for Minister Palacio meant fulfilling the statesman's duty, according to Henry Kissinger, of bridging "the gap between his nation's experience and his vision."
All true, but being just a bit uncomfortable with this male-oriented language, I was pleased to discover that Abigail Adams, the highly acclaimed wife of this country's second president, John Adams, voiced sentiments tailor-made for Ana Palacio and today's occasion.
"If we mean to have heroes, statesmen, and philosophers," said Abigail Adams, "we should have learned women."
Minister Palacio is Exhibit A for this point of view.
Led by a government headed by Prime Minister José María Aznar, whom we had the privilege of hearing from at last year's Annual Meeting, and by Minister Palacio, Spain was catapulted into a leadership position on the global stage.
Spain, which has long understood the true meaning of terrorism, unhesitatingly joined with the United States and likeminded nations after 9/11 in the struggle to defeat this global cancer. Subsequently, notwithstanding strong domestic opposition and pressure from several heavyweight EU countries, Spain steadfastly supported the Coalition of the Willing in Iraq, sending troops and suffering casualties in the process.
And Ana Palacio did not hesitate to speak out publicly to explain Spain's position.
Here's what she wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed a year ago:
A European foreign policy cannot be focused on the maintenance of a balance of world power, but rather on the values and objectives we share with the United States, summarized in the notion of freedom. As our Cervantes had Don Quixote say, liberty is "one of the most precious gifts heaven has bestowed upon Man. No treasures the earth contains or the sea conceals can be compared to it. For liberty one can rightfully risk one's life."
And at the opening of our Transatlantic Institute in Brussels in February, Minister Palacio, who flew especially from Madrid to be with us and who has agreed to serve on the institute's board, said:
To meet the challenge in the Middle East, we have to understand that we Europeans must do so by going hand in hand with the United States, with whom we share principles and values which, in the end, come to this: the idea of the value of the human being as the center of our political and social system.
Powerful thoughts, aren't they?
Ladies and gentlemen, Spain has traditionally had excellent relations with the Arab world. Without sacrificing those ties, Minister Palacio devoted herself to enhancing Spain's bilateral link with Israel, a country she visited several times during her term as foreign minister.
She showed particular understanding for Israel's battle with terrorism, recognizing that terrorism is terrorism, pure and simple. It can never be rationalized, much less defended.
This, as we know, is not a universally held view, but she pressed the point, especially in Brussels, and as a result helped place Hamas on the EU terrorism list. We are grateful for her successful efforts.
There is much more to be said about Minister Palacio, but time permits only one additional comment.
As foreign minister, she made a special effort to reach out to world Jewry, even, gasp, to those of us, like me, who are of Ashkenazi and not Sephardi origin! Seriously, against the backdrop of Spanish history, this was, of course, an especially meaningful gesture.
Ladies and gentlemen, our own beloved Madeline and Bruce Ramer of Los Angeles share in common with our honoree a sense of vision. In their case, it was the vision to create a special award for diplomatic excellence. This is the second year we present it.
In bestowing this award upon Minister Ana Palacio, the American Jewish Committee wishes to recognize her "principled and courageous leadership in advancing the transatlantic relationship, defending the cause of freedom and human dignity, and deepening the ties of friendship between Spain and the Jewish people."
An individual of exceptional valor and courage, she is a most worthy recipient of this coveted award.