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Mexico's President Non-Committal on UN Vote - 2003-03-06

Mexican President Vicente Fox is calling for unity in his country ahead of a possible war in the Persian Gulf. Mexico holds a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council and is considered a possible swing vote on an upcoming resolution being sponsored by the United States, Britain and Spain. But, Mr. Fox is avoiding any commitment on that vote for now.

As the United States intensifies its effort to gain U.N. approval of a second resolution authorizing force to disarm Iraq, the pressure on Mexico is growing. In recent days there has been a flurry of communications between U.S. officials and their Mexican counterparts. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell met in person with Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez Saturday and has followed up with phone calls since then.

Mr. Powell is seeking Mexico's support in the Security Council, while Mr. Derbez is asking Mr. Powell to consider a compromise being proposed by Canada. Under the Canadian proposal, Iraq would be required to meet specific obligations by specific dates leading to the end of the month when the Security Council would meet again to judge Baghdad's compliance.

There has been a great deal of speculation in the Mexican press about possible U.S. actions to punish Mexico if it fails to back the United States in the Security Council. But according to President Fox, there has been no such pressure from Washington.

He said his government is constant communication with the U.S. government and that there has been no talk of reprisals. He added that Mexico maintains its independent position and is not committed to any other nation's plan.

Still, many Mexicans express concern over the anger a vote against the United States could produce. The United States is the destination for more than 80 percent of Mexico's exports. Mexico has also been pursuing an accord on immigration that could benefit the three or four million Mexican workers who are in the United States illegally. Such an accord could also help Mexico's economy since immigrants north of the border send back anywhere from $6 billion to $8 billion a year to their families.

Mexico could abstain in the Security Council vote, but that might not satisfy either Washington or the majority of Mexican citizens who oppose war. While President Fox has spoken in favor of peace, he has also said that Iraq should be disarmed.

Given the importance of this vote, it may be difficult for Mexico to avoid a solid stand one way or the other. Some political observers, including such well-known Mexico experts in the United States as George Grayson of the College of William and Mary say Mexico is unlikely to feel the wrath of the Bush administration even if it votes against the upcoming resolution.

Mr. Grayson says that President Bush will not want to do anything to offend Hispanic voters in the United States ahead of the November 2004 presidential election. Mr. Grayson and others also note that much of the U.S.-Mexico relation is anchored by the North American Free Trade Agreement and long-standing relations across the shared 3,000-kilometer border.