FOX calls for replacement of Cold War-era defense alliance

Friday, September 7th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Mexican President Vicente Fox called Friday for the replacement of a Cold War-era Western Hemisphere defense alliance with a new mechanism to deal with economic backwardness, extreme poverty and organized crime.

``We don't confront an extracontinental enemy that obliges us to defend ourselves through a military alliance,'' Fox told a gathering at the Organization of American States.

He urged a sustained struggle against what he called the common adversaries that hemispheric countries now face.

For more than a half a century, Western Hemisphere nations have operated under a mutual defense treaty known as the Interamerican Reciprocal Assistance Treaty. The treaty is, essentially, the hemisphere's equivalent of the NATO treaty.

Because of what Fox considers the anachronistic status of the 1945 treaty, he said Mexico is considering withdrawing from the accord. Fox said he will make a final decision on the issue within 60 days.

He proposed that Mexico serve as the host for a ``Special Security Conference,'' called for last April in a hemispheric summit meeting in Quebec.

A large gathering was on hand to hear Fox's remarks, delivered hours before the conclusion of a 2 1/2-day state visit to the United States.

``In adopting this proposal,'' Fox said, speaking in Spanish, ``our purpose is to promote the development of a new regional security structure. This will have to arise from a joint review of the actual and potential threats to our nations, with the goal of forging a new regional agenda that responds to the real need of all nations of the hemisphere.''

Fox's remarks reflect the slow economic and social progress made in many countries. Although the hemisphere is virtually fully democratic, it is estimated that more than 130 million Latin American citizens live in extreme poverty.

The OAS, with 34 active member nations, is the world's oldest international political institution.

In a Thursday speech to a joint meeting of Congress, Fox highlighted the need for trust if relations between the United States and Mexico are to move ahead.

Fox, whose state visit ends Friday, seemed to grope for words on Thursday in describing the affection with which he was received in his ``rancher-to-rancher'' summit with President Bush.

For his part, Bush makes no secret of his admiration for Fox. ``I've come to know him and respect him a lot as a genuine man, straightforward, who doesn't play games.

``He's just a very-easy-to-visit man,'' Bush said on the eve of Fox's arrival. ``And he tells you exactly what's on his mind, and I like that kind of approach. You don't have to guess what he believes.''

If Washington showed disrespect toward Mexico in the past, Bush is trying to correct that.

Bush said he wanted Fox to be his first state visitor because his foreign policy starts from the premise that ``you've got to have a good neighborhood. ... Mexico is our neighbor. And like any good neighbor, we want Mexico, our neighbor, to do well.''

For all the neighborliness, however, there is no certainty of a happy outcome to the continuing efforts of the two countries to agree on revamping migration policies.

Fox has taken a maximalist approach, asking that all the estimated 3 million Mexicans living illegally in the United States be granted legal status.

Many in the United States believe the illegal immigrants are lawbreakers entitled to no leniency, and Fox took on these critics Thursday in his speech to lawmakers.

``Let me be clear about this: regularization (Fox's term for legalization) does not mean rewarding those who break the law; regularization means that we will provide them with the legal means to allow them to continue contributing to this great nation,'' he said.