Union Tribune

February 22, 2003

U.S. prods Mexico to support war in Iraq


WASHINGTON – As the United States and Great Britain prepare a United Nations Security Council resolution to authorize the use of force against Iraq, U.S. diplomats are pressuring Mexico for support.

"We want them to understand two things," a top State Department official said. "We want them to understand our position, why we feel the way we do. And second, we want them to understand that this is extremely important to us."

The official, who asked not to be identified, said President Bush will probably join Secretary of State Colin Powell in lobbying the government of Mexican President Vicente Fox during the next week.

"I suspect there will be president-to-president contact at the appropriate moment," he said. "There won't be any quid pro quo and no 'If you don't do this, we'll do that,' but clearly actions do have consequences."

Despite the building pressure, Fox, who faces public opinion polls showing 80 percent of his people oppose a war on Iraq, is signaling that Mexico will not help the United States and Great Britain toward their goal of nine votes on the 15-member council.

Fox's position is drawing rave reviews in the Mexican press. One of the country's most influential papers, El Universal, yesterday editorialized that Fox's decision "has fulfilled his legal and ethical duties . . . If there is finally war, Mexico and its president will not be among the promoters and validators of that infamy."

In Mexico City on Thursday, Fox politely turned aside an effort by Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar to lobby for the resolution, which is expected to be introduced next week. Aznar, a staunch supporter of the United States in the Iraq crisis despite overwhelming disapproval among the Spanish public, visited Fox on his way to a visit with President Bush at Bush's Texas ranch that began yesterday.

Spain, like Mexico and eight other countries, holds a rotating seat on the 15-member Security Council. The United States and Great Britain, both permanent members, are hoping that the other permanent members who have opposed the U.S. push for war – France, Russia, and China – would decide not to veto an Iraq resolution that had majority support in the council.

"This is a no-win situation for Mexico," said American University professor Robert Pastor, who has written widely about the U.S.-Mexico relationship and directs the university's Center for North American Studies.

A vote against the resolution is likely to antagonize Mexico's closest neighbor and most important trading partner, Pastor said. But a vote for the resolution, he said, would enrage public opinion in Mexico, which has a long history of opposing armed intervention as a means of resolving international disputes.

Pastor held out hope that Mexico might help forge a compromise resolution that would set a date by which Iraq must comply with previous Security Council resolutions requiring that it disarm.

"Otherwise they will have to chose between public opinion and their friendship with the U.S.," Pastor said.

The U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, Tony Garza, is pushing Mexico to show its commitment to that friendship.

"What we hope for," Garza told reporters in Mexico City this week, "are demonstrations of solidarity with our effort to disarm Iraq."

But Mexico's ambassador to the United Nations, writing in yesterday's editions of the Mexican newspaper Reforma, pointed to even higher stakes if the United States launches a war on Iraq.

"Above all, there is the fear of the effects that this war could have, both for the Iraqi people and for regional and worldwide stability," wrote Adolfo Aguilar Zinser. "There exists the perception – frankly, the fear – that its consequences could be more grave, more risky, more generalized and uncontrollable than the dangers that the regime in Iraq presents day by day for the security of the world."

Joseph Tulchin, director of the Latin American Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington, said the Bush administration's neglect of Mexico gives President Fox no incentive to resist public opinion in order to back the United States.

"Since September 2001, the bilateral relationship has been placed into a freezer by the U.S. government," said Tulchin.

He said Fox has been particularly disappointed by the lack of U.S. movement toward an immigration agreement.