- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 19, 2000

Northwest passage

What is a Mexican ambassador doing in the Pacific Northwest?

Oregon might seem like a long way from home, but Ambassador Jesus F. Reyes-Heroles says the state is one of Mexico's best trading partners.

On a visit last week, the ambassador polished the image of Mexico and promoted investment in his country.

He also promised to visit Hispanic neighborhoods in Portland and stress the importance of education. Mayor Vera Katz told him about the high dropout rates among the children of Mexican immigrants and Mexican-Americans.

Mr. Reyes-Heroles also "raised several issues regarding the well-being and social conditions of the population of Mexican origin living in Portland," said Mexican Embassy spokesman Jose A. Zabalgoitia.

Trade between Oregon and Mexico has soared since the 1993 passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Oregon exported more than $900 million worth of goods to Mexico last year, a stunning sixfold increase over the pre-NAFTA trade.

"Oregon has now become Mexico's 10th-largest trading partner in the United States, while Mexico has become Oregon's fourth-largest partner in the world," Mr. Zabalgoitia said.

The ambassador and the mayor also discussed Portland's sister-city relationship with Guadalajara, Mexico's most prominent industrial center.

Mr. Reyes-Heroles also visited Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber to discuss problems in the state's Hispanic community.

Praise for Seiple

Robert Seiple gave religion a voice in American foreign policy in his two years as ambassador-at-large for religious freedom.

And Elliott Abrams, for one, will miss him greatly when Mr. Seiple retires from the State Department in September.

"Ambassador Seiple was the first ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom," said Mr. Abrams, who chairs the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

"He started from scratch and built the position into a serious and influential one by force of personality, personal integrity and a passionate commitment to religious freedom."

"Despite Ambassador Seiple's departure, the work of his fine staff and of the commission in advancing the cause of religious freedom overseas will grow," Mr. Abrams added.

"The fact that the work can proceed uninterrupted is due in no small part to Bob Seiple's efforts over the past several years. We will miss him as a colleague, and we congratulate him for his success in making religious freedom a more important factor in U.S. foreign policy."

Mr. Seiple, who also served on the commission, plans to open a religious-freedom think tank at Eastern College in suburban Philadelphia.

Mr. Abrams, an assistant secretary of state in the Reagan administration, is the first chairman of the commission, created by Congress to monitor threats to religion abroad and develop policy recommendations for the president and Congress.

Rubin still speaking

Former State Department spokesman James P. Rubin, now a London resident, has come to the defense of Alastair Campbell, the embattled spokesman for British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

"I think Alastair Campbell has done a terrific job with the prime minister. He is a committed individual," Mr. Rubin told BBC radio in a recent interview.

Mr. Campbell has been criticized in the press for spinning, or slanting, the news to make Mr. Blair look better. Mr. Campbell recently decided to have a deputy conduct daily news briefings.

"He understands the media, and he understands policies, and I suspect without talking to him that he realized that the prime minister was better off without everyone focusing on Alastair, and that's the kind of guy he is that he stepped back," Mr. Rubin said.

"In the end those individuals who have credibility, who repeatedly tell the truth and are honest about mistakes and promote the policies based on substance rather than quips or misdirection are the ones that are believed in the long haul, in the long term.

"I think Alastair is one of those people."

Mr. Rubin moved to London with his wife, CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour, and their son, Darius.

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