updated 9/7/2006 9:49:10 AM ET 2006-09-07T13:49:10

The U.N. peacekeeping force for Lebanon should be strong enough by mid-September for Israeli troops to withdraw, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Thursday during a visit to Madrid, as Spain's parliament prepared to approve sending forces to Lebanon.

Annan also addressed the international standoff with Iran over its refusal to halt uranium enrichment, saying a meeting due this weekend between a senior European negotiator and Iran's top nuclear official is very important.

"The best solution will be a negotiated one," Annan said at a joint news conference with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. It was the U.N. leader's last stop as he heads back to New York following a 12-day tour of the Middle East.

Annan said Iran had the responsibility to take steps that show the international community its uranium enrichment is for peaceful, energy-producing purposes and not for producing nuclear weapons as feared by the United States and its European allies.

In search of a ‘credible’ U.N. force
On Lebanon, Annan said he hoped Israel's planned lifting of its air and sea blockade on Thursday would "ease some of the tension that still prevails."

He said Israel needs to see a "credible" force in south Lebanon to withdraw from territory it entered during the recent 34-day war with Hezbollah guerrillas.

By mid-month the force should have 5,000 international peacekeepers, Annan said. These, along with 16,000 Lebanese troops being sent to the south of the country, will constitute that "credible force," Annan said.

"We will reach that number by mid-September to allow Israel to withdraw," he said.

"They have to leave for the others to deploy," Annan said of the Israelis.

Zapatero blasts CIA prisons
Annan and Zapatero were also asked about an admission by President Bush that the CIA has maintained secret prisons overseas to hold top terror suspects.

The secretary-general would not comment directly on the prisons, but said: "I cannot believe that there can be a trade between the effective fight against terrorism and protection of civil liberties. If as individuals we are asked to give up our freedom, our liberties, our human rights, as protection against terrorism, do we in the end have protection?"

Spanish airports are among many others in Europe that were allegedly used by the CIA to transfer prisoners on secret stopovers, mostly under Spain's previous conservative administration. It is not clear whether the government knew of the program.

Zapatero was blunt in his criticism of the CIA practice.

"The fight against terrorism can only be done through democracy and respect for the law. It is not compatible with the existence of secret prisons," he said.

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