- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 4, 2001

Sen. Jesse Helms plans to make history this month by taking the entire Senate Foreign Relations Committee to Mexico for a joint session with its counterpart committee in the Mexican Congress.
"This will be, to the best of my knowledge, the first time in history that a committee of the United States Congress has held a joint meeting on foreign soil with a committee of another nation's Congress or parliament," Mr. Helms, North Carolina Republican, said yesterday in announcing the trip.
The effort drew immediate support across party lines.
"I commend you," said Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat. "It is an exciting way to begin the 21st century to try to reach out and establish closer ties with these emerging stronger democracies."
Marc Thiessen, spokesman for the Senate committee chaired by Mr. Helms, said the panel had no specific agenda for the trip, scheduled to begin April 16 and last three days.
"The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is willing to talk about anything the Mexicans want to talk about," he said.
High on the list of issues bedeviling U.S.-Mexico relations are drugs, illegal immigration and trade.
The committee yesterday agreed on changes in the so-called "certification process," which requires the White House each year to determine if Mexico and other drug-producing nations are cooperating with the United States in the war on drugs.
The certification process, long opposed by Mexico, would be modified for three years under legislation sponsored by Mr. Dodd and Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat.
The bill would require Mexico to meet international obligations, not U.S. standards as in the past. It would presume innocence, rather than guilt. In addition, the legislation would single out the "worst offenders" and target organizations, not just countries.
If the proposal becomes law, it is unlikely to be enough to placate the Mexicans who despise the U.S. certification process as insulting.
The proposed change is likely to be welcomed as a step in the right direction.
Mexico's President Vicente Fox will meet Mr. Helms during the visit.
The trip was scheduled as a way to reach out to Mexico's reformers.
"I'm convinced that such a gesture by the U.S. Senate and this committee, in particular, will help solidify the emerging friendship between our governments and will contribute to strengthening the long-standing friendships between our two peoples," Mr. Helms said.
Mr. Thiessen said the visit is modeled on Mr. Helms' trip to the United Nations last year that led to the adoption of numerous U.N. reforms and the payment of $1.3 billion in U.S. arrears.
"The United Nations was full of waste, fraud and abuse, but a new leader was elected who wanted to fix the problems," said Mr. Thiessen.
"The parallels in Mexico are similar. For the first time in 71 years, Mexico has a new reform-minded president, who wants to improve U.S.-Mexico relations. Senator Helms wants to help him do that."

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