Mexico Tells Bush It Won't Support Iraq Resolution US Favor


By Tim Weiner

New York Times
October 28, 2002

President Bush left a summit conference here today without a pledge from Mexico to support the American resolution in the United Nations Security Council to disarm Iraq.

Mexican officials made it clear that Mexico is siding with France in the debate at the United Nations. While the United States is demanding one resolution that includes a legal basis for the military action against Iraq, France wants two stages, authorizing force only when Baghdad fails to comply with weapons inspections.

Mexico is a crucial swing vote in the Security Council, and the lack of explicit support from President Fox is a setback to the United States in what American officials say will be the final days of the difficult deliberations.

Mr. Fox said Mexico's priority is to achieve a resolution with the broadest possible backing from the 15-nation Council.

"The crucial thing is collective action," he said a few hours after meeting for about 35 minutes with Mr. Bush, who seemed somewhat short-tempered after their discussion. American officials had expected that Mexico, one of the 10 nonpermanent members of the Council, would be what one called "an easy vote."

The lack of agreement on Iraq came as Mexico and the United States also reported scant progress of the bilateral agenda that Mr. Fox has been promoting, especially on his push for a broad immigration agreement.

Mr. Bush says he will "lead a coalition to disarm Iraq" unilaterally if the 15-member Security Council does not pass a strongly worded American resolution for inspecting and dismantling Iraq's weaponry. That proposal contains the implicit threat of immediate military action if Iraq resists.

France has said it does not want a confrontation with Washington but rather is striving to close the gap between their views in the final stage of the high-stakes negotiations.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who only recently was openly optimistic about the American resolution's prospects at the United Nations, said Saturday that a victory there "may evade us." He added, "We have reached the point where we have to make a few fundamental decisions" in the next few days.

A Security Council resolution must pass with at least 9 votes in favor and no negative vote from any of the five permanent members. Among the permanent Council members — the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China — only Britain unequivocally supports the American proposal. Among the 10 nonpermanent members, so far only five have clearly indicated they will vote with the United States. That leaves Mexico along with Ireland as pivotal swing votes.

Because of Mexico's close economic ties with the United States, and the personal friendship betwen President Fox and President Bush, American officials had expected Mexican cooperation.

But even a 9-to-6 resolution would be a diplomatic debacle for the United States, a senior Mexican official said, arguing that a split decision would send a signal of disunity and division.

The two nations made no progress in a series of meetings this week on other major issues that both draw them together and pull them apart, including trade and migration.

"We're about where we were — not any closer than we were before, not further," said Mexico's foreign minister, Jorge G. Casteñeda.

"What we want is a resolution that is approved by all 15 — or 14 — members of the Security Council," said Mr. Castañeda. "We think that's more important for the United States' cause." The 15th vote would be Syria's, but no one thinks it will vote against Iraq.

Unanimity, the members agree, would be a good thing. But none exists today.

France has circulated an informal alternative to the American resolution. Its text omits two crucial words from the American proposal, which would find Iraq in "material breach" of a number of past Security Council resolutions.

France and other nations consider that phrase a tripwire that would authorize the United States to decide whether to go to war with Iraq regardless of the results of weapon inspections.

While Mr. Bush, Secretary Powell and the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, attended the 21-nation Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation talks here this weekend, Secretary Powell and the French foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, spoke several times by telephone, as did the American and French ambassadors to the United Nations, John D. Negroponte and Jean-David Levitte, diplomats said.

The United States and Mexico find themselves at an impasse as well, with little sign of progress or compromise on Mr. Fox's dream of an accord on migration. The extent to which that standoff may affect Mexico's position on Iraq is unclear. It is clearly cooling the relationship between the two nations.

Mr. Fox seeks some legal rights for more than three million undocumented Mexican immigrants in the United States, along with more visas and expanded guest-worker programs. He says implementation of those goals will benefit both the security and the economy of the United States.

On average, between 300 and 400 Mexican migrants die every year trying to cross the border. In January, when tariffs are lifted on a slew of heavily subsidized American farm products under the North American Free Trade Agreement, the flow of cheap American food and feed will become a flood, potentially swamping Mexican farmers and small businesses. Mexico says that may drive many more people north seeking work..

But Mr. Fox got nothing from President Bush, save a noncommittal response when he invited him for a state visit next year. "Time and circumstance have not allowed us to progress with the speed we want," Mr. Fox said.

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