- The Washington Times - Monday, April 20, 2009

MEXICO CITY (AP) - Mexico has approved a Cuban-American with expertise in conflict management as the new U.S. ambassador, the Foreign Relations Department said Monday.

Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa told reporters Mexico approved the new U.S. ambassador several days ago, though she did not say who it was. Foreign Relations Department spokesman Victor Aviles later told The Associated Press it was Carlos Pascual.

Pascual was the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine from 2000 to 2003 and also served as coordinator for reconstruction and stabilization at the U.S. State Department. He has most recently been vice president and director of foreign policy for the Brookings Institution in Washington, where he focused on post-conflict stabilization.

President Barack Obama’s administration has yet to formally announce its choice for ambassador to Mexico, which the Senate must approve.

Mexico’s brutal drug violence has become a top U.S. security concern. The U.S. government is backing President Felipe Calderon’s military-led crackdown against drug-trafficking cartels with millions of dollars in training and equipment.

During a visit to Mexico last week, Obama acknowledged that the United States shares responsibility for the bloodshed and kidnappings in Mexico that have spilled across the border into the U.S.

He pledged to step up efforts to stop the trafficking of U.S. guns that are used in much of the drug-related violence in Mexico, but said he would not seek the renewal of a U.S. assault- weapons ban. Instead, he pledged to increase enforcement of laws banning the transfer of such guns across the border. He also has pledged to send more federal agents to the border.

The U.S. and Mexican governments say drug cartels use “straw purchasers” to get many of their guns from commercial dealers in the United States.

Pascual also has been an advocate of change in U.S. policy toward Cuba. He recently co-authored a Brookings report that argued that policy has eroded American influence on the island and left the United States isolated in the region. The report urged several steps, including enhancing contact between Cuban and U.S. citizens and removing Cuba from countries that support terrorism.

Pascual replaces Tony Garza, who served as U.S. ambassador under the administration of President George W. Bush from 2002 to January 2009.

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