- The Washington Times - Monday, July 7, 2003

A bumpy ride

Antonio O. Garza Jr., a political ally of President Bush, became the U.S. ambassador in Mexico just as the debate over war in Iraq was raging at the United Nations.

The relations between Mr. Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox, warm and friendly when Mr. Garza was nominated, became cool and strained over Iraq, as Mexico opposed efforts to remove Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein by force.

“Since becoming ambassador, I’ve likened the U.S.-Mexico relationship to an airplane ride,” Mr. Garza said in a speech last week. “Presidents Fox and Bush had a takeoff we all marveled at, and I took my seat as the pilot said, ‘Buckle up, folks. We’re in for a little turbulence.”

Relations improved after Mexico supported a resolution to lift U.N. sanctions on Iraq after the removal of Saddam and his henchmen, Mr. Garza told the International Good Neighbor Council in Monterrey, Mexico.

“Now we’re on the ground, and Mexico’s active contribution to crafting U.N. Resolution 1483 … is a solid indicator of our commitment to some common objectives,” he said. “Our focus … has shifted to helping the people of Iraq realize their hopes.”

Mr. Garza praised the economic reforms instituted both by Mr. Fox, leader of the National Action Party (PAN), and his predecessors in the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which controlled Mexico for 71 years before Mr. Fox’s election three years ago.

Mr. Fox’s hope for further reforms suffered a setback in Sunday’s legislative elections, as his party lost 44 seats in the lower house of Congress and the PRI regained much of its strength.

Mr. Garza said the economic measures already adopted laid a “foundation for sound economic growth.”

“Clearly, the nation’s fundamentals are strong … ,” he said. “The demand for commerce with Mexico is a leading reason that the nation has signed free-trade agreements with no less than 30 other countries since the implementation of NAFTA.”

The North American Free Trade Agreement of the United States, Canada and Mexico took effect in 1994.

Mr. Garza declined to advise Mexico on the details of future economic reforms.

“What steps are in Mexico’s best interest? I’m hardly the person to tell you, nor did I come here to lecture,” he said. “While I don’t offer policy prescriptions, I will tell you that I firmly believe that Mexico’s best hope lies with continuing to open its economy to international competition.”

Vive l’Amerique

The U.S. ambassador to France continued his diplomatic charm offensive at an Independence Day reception at his residence in Paris.

Ambassador Howard H. Leach praised France’s financial and military aid that helped the American colonies win their independence from Britain.

“Without France’s financial support, the Revolution would have failed. France’s military assistance, led by the spirited Marquis de Lafayette and other great French military leaders like Gen. Rochambeau, was crucial to the victory at Yorktown,” he said.

Mr. Leach repeated President Bush’s goal of defending “‘liberty and justice because these principles are right and true for all people everywhere,’”

“Vive la France. Vive l’Amerique,” the ambassador said.

Iraqi diplomat dies

A former Iraqi ambassador to the United States died last week in New York, after a long struggle with leukemia, according to a London-based Arab newspaper.

The Associated Press yesterday quoted an obituary in the Arabic daily, Al-Hayat, that said Nizar Hamdoun died Friday at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Center, where he was undergoing treatment.

Mr. Hamdoun, a loyal follower of Saddam Hussein, served in Washington from 1984 to 1988, during the last four years of the Iran-Iraq war.

He was diagnosed with leukemia in 1991 before the U.S.-led coalition drove Iraq out of Kuwait. Mr. Hamdoun served as Iraq’s ambassador to the United Nations from 1992 to 1999.

Visit postponed

Supachai Panitchpakdi, director-general of the World Trade Organization, has postponed his visit to Washington this week, which was to have included a news conference Thursday at the National Press Club.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail [email protected].

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