Ahead of his visit with President Bush on Friday, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar met with Mexican President Vicente Fox in Mexico City to discuss the Iraq problem. Both Spain and Mexico currently occupy non-permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council. The two leaders agreed on the need to disarm Iraq, but remained apart when it comes to the possible use of force to accomplish that goal.

The Spanish and Mexican leaders met in private at the Mexican presidential residence for more than two hours and then issued a joint communique in which they supported a multilateral diplomatic effort to remove weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But the document left out the major points of disagreement between Mr. Aznar, who favors a tough approach with Baghdad, and Mr. Fox, who opposes military action to resolve the crisis.

In comments before his meeting with the Spanish leader, Mr. Fox emphasized Mexico's position as a neutral arbiter. He said Mexico maintains an independent position with no commitment to any party. He said he wants to stick to that position which, he said, provides Mexico with the moral authority required to bring different parties together.

President Fox says the multilateral forum represented by the United Nations is the best mechanism for bringing about a negotiated settlement with Iraq and he opposes any unilateral action against the government of Saddam Hussein. Mr. Fox acknowledges that his position represents a major disagreement with President Bush, but he says he expects no repercussions to result from that.

Mr. Aznar said he did not come to Mexico to try to convince Mr. Fox to support the idea of forcefully disarming Iraq. He said the purpose of the meeting was to exchange ideas about the issue.

Mr. Aznar is second only to British Prime Minister Tony Blair as a European leader who strongly supports the U.S. position on Iraq. On Friday, Mr. Aznar flies to Texas where he will meet with President Bush on his ranch. The Spanish leader also plans to visit with Mr. Blair and other European leaders ahead of the next U.N. weapons inspectors' report to the Security Council on February 28.