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Mexican President Faces Increased Pressures at Home, Abroad on Iraq Issue - 2003-03-12

One of the non-permanent members of the United Nations Security Council that remains uncommitted in regard to a new resolution on Iraq is Mexico, a nation that shares a 3,000 kilometer border with the United States and sends 85 per cent of its exports to the United States.

On Tuesday, President Fox spoke by telephone with various world leaders, including Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, who favors the new resolution, and French President Jacques Chirac, who opposes it. Mr. Fox also received a call from Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who urged his Mexican counterpart to support the resolution to be put before the Security Council by the United States, Britain and Spain.

At the same time, pressure is growing from domestic political groups for Mexico to vote against any resolution that would open the way to a war. Public opinion polls show overwhelming support for a peaceful resolution of the crisis. Rival political figures are also joining the anti-war chorus, warning Mr. Fox not to yield to pressure from Washington. Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a likely presidential candidate for the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution in the year 2006 election, is calling on Mr. Fox to "listen to the voice of the people."

While relations between the United States and Mexico are generally good, old resentments remain. Many people distrust U.S. motives and are concerned about the possible effects of a war on their country. One source of concern is that thousands of Mexicans as well as sons and daughters of Mexican immigrants in the United States are in the U.S. armed forces. The Mexican news media gave broad coverage to the burial this week of U.S. Army Specialist Rodrigo Gonzalez who died along with three other soldiers in a helicopter crash during a training exercise in Kuwait on February 25. He was buried in the town of his birth, Sabinas Hidalgo, about 100 kilometers south of the border with Texas.

Some Mexican news publications this past weekend warned that there will be many more such deaths because, they said, the United States is recruiting illegal Mexican immigrants with the promise of granting them citizenship after they complete their tour of duty.

The U.S. embassy here in Mexico immediately issued a statement denying the story. According to the statement, only citizens and legal residents of the United States may join the military. The U.S. embassy document also countered the claim made in some Mexican media that Hispanics would constitute a large percentage of the soldiers on the front lines in any war. The embassy statement noted that 8.7 percent of U.S. military personnel are Hispanic, while the most recent census shows that Hispanics make up 12 and one half percent of the U.S. population.

But a war in the Persian Gulf could have other detrimental effects in Mexico, especially if the worldwide economy is disrupted. Mexican officials are also taking precautions against possible terrorist attacks.

The Mexican navy has increased patrols in the Bay of Campeche region where much of the country's oil industry is located. There have been recent warnings about terrorists targeting oil production facilities worldwide in the event of a war in Iraq. Mexico has also stepped up vigilance along its borders to prevent the entry of terrorists attempting to enter the United States through Mexican territory.