- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Balanced alert

The U.S. ambassador to Mexico is alarmed about the staggering rate of violence in Mexican border towns where killings, kidnappings and bank robberies are already occurring at record rates four months into the year. However, he is not warning Americans to cancel their vacations.

“Mexico remains an important tourist destination for U.S. citizens, with over 12 million Americans visiting Mexico each year for business, vacation or to visit family and friends,” Ambassador Antonio O. Garza said as he explained the reason for a travel alert the State Department issued this week.

“It is important that these visitors have accurate and current information to make wise decisions in order to avoid potentially dangerous situations.”

Mr. Garza added that the travel alert “reflects the current reality in Mexico, including the increased violence on the U.S.-Mexico border.” He noted that those conditions are “widely known” in Mexico but that “many tourists” are unaware of the situation.

“The travel alert does not advise Americans to avoid travel to any region or city,” he said. “In fact, the vast majority of the thousands of U.S. citizens who cross the border by car or fly into Mexico’s airports each day do so safely, exercising common-sense precautions during their visits.”

Last week on a visit to Juarez, Mr. Garza praised the “valiant attempts” by Mexican authorities to combat the violence, caused mainly by drug gangs and organized crime. He recognized a new initiative by Mexican President Felipe Calderon to “dismantle the criminal networks in northern Mexico piece by piece.”

However, he added, the crime statistics for the border town across from El Paso, Texas, are “alarming.”

“Nearly 200 murders have been registered this year, well on pace to surpass the number of killings last year,” he said. Mexican authorities reported 301 killings in Juarez in 2007. “Almost 2,000 vehicles were stolen in January and February. Bank robberies are at record levels, and kidnappings for ransom are also on the rise,” the ambassador added.

Saudi stopover

On their way back to Iraq from their Washington visit, U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker and Gen. David H. Petraeus stopped in Saudi Arabia to brief Foreign Minister Prince Saud al Faisal.

Mr. Crocker and Gen. Patraeus, commander of coalition forces in Iraq, reported to Congress last week on progress from the surge that has reduced terrorist attacks in some part of the country.

Prince Faisal met the U.S. officials on Monday, when he also held talks with Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the foreign relations representative of the European Union.

Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, attended both meetings.

Play ball!

The German Embassy is proud of its foreign minister for an unusual feat of diplomacy.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, following in the footsteps of American presidents, threw the first pitch at a Major League Baseball game and got the ball across home plate.

Mr. Steinmeier walked to the mound to the cheers of the crowd at Saturday’s game in Boston between the Red Sox and the New York Yankees, as the announcer noted that the foreign minister was attending his first baseball game.

Embassy press spokesman Ulrich A. Sante captured the action on video and posted it on YouTube.

Mr. Sante said Mr. Steinmeier, who was in Washington last week, got some advice from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Miss Rice was aware of the embarrassment of some American presidents whose ceremonial pitches bounced in the dirt or caused catchers to leap for balls high and outside.

“I wouldn’t do it,” she told the foreign minister.

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

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