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Mexico's Fox remains opposed to U.S. attack on Iraq

MEXICO CITY—Mexican President Vicente Fox remains opposed to U.S. military action against Iraq and said he would view "with great sadness and displeasure" any U.S. attack without the United Nations' approval.

In an interview late Tuesday, Fox called his position on Iraq the first major disagreement he has had with the Bush administration. But he said he didn't anticipate retaliation from the United States.

"I wouldn't expect in any way reprisals," Fox said. He noted that while he hadn't spoken with President Bush for several weeks, he and other Mexican officials have had daily contact with Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Mexico is a member of the U.N. Security Council and will be expected to vote on any resolution that the United States might present seeking authorization for a military strike. Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar is to arrive in Mexico on Thursday to discuss Iraq with Fox. Spain backs the U.S. position.

Fox didn't say how his country would vote on such a resolution. But in the most extensive remarks he has made to date, he left it clear that the United Sates is unlikely to win Mexico's support for military action.

"We want the only course to be through the United Nations and only through the Security Council, only multilaterally," he said. He said the position would help push the United States "to find other methods to disarm Saddam Hussein and Iraq."

Fox said he hoped that in the next few days there would be an "exit to disarm Iraq without war, and most of all that we don't have a war because of a unilateral decision."

Fox spoke at his office in the presidential residence of Los Pinos during a meeting to mark the launch in Mexico City of The Miami Herald's International Edition. The newspaper began printing in Mexico City last week in association with the Mexico City daily paper El Universal. Fox met with Herald Chairman and Publisher Alberto Ibarguen, El Universal President Juan Francisco Ealy Ortiz and other officials from the newspapers. He praised the project between the papers as important to freedom of the press.

"There's never been in Mexico such liberty of expression," Fox said. The project is the result "of progress and democracy that my government supports and wants."

Mexico previously has been adamant in the Security Council against U.S. military action. Last fall, it played a crucial role in transforming a U.N. resolution sought by the United States that would have authorized a U.S. military strike on Iraq. The altered resolution called for weapons inspectors to go to Iraq to determine if the country was manufacturing biological and other weapons of mass destruction.

Fox acknowledged that his position on Iraq puts his nation in a delicate diplomatic circumstance. Fox, Mexico's first president in 71 years who isn't from the Institutional Revolutionary Party, had hoped his government would be able to strike agreements with the Bush administration on a number of thorny issues, particularly on easing conditions for hundreds of thousands of Mexicans who live and work illegally in the United States.

Those efforts were largely sidelined by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, and U.S. Ambassador Antonio Garza has said the United States expects "solidarity" from Mexico on Iraq.

Still, Fox said Mexico now had a more trusting relationship with the United States, allowing both sides to share "very confidential and very secret information" to fight terrorism, organized crime and drug trafficking.

"It is surprising that we have advanced so much," he said. "In the past, American authorities rarely offered any information to Mexico. This is totally surpassed, and with excellent results."


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTO (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): MEXICO-FOX