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The News
México City, November 23, 2000.

Castaneda vows changes in foreign Mexican policy


The nation's new Foreign Secretary Jorge Castañeda said on Wednesday he hoped to ease whatever reservations exist in Washington about his selection and work closely with U.S. lawmakers on issues ranging from immigration to drug trafficking.

Castañeda, a left-wing academic educated in the United States and France, is the most controversial appointment so far to the government of President-elect Vicente Fox, who takes office on Dec. 1.

As a former Marxist who was strongly opposed to Mexico joining the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in the mid-1990s, Castañeda is widely perceived as not seeing eye to eye with North Carolina Republican Sen. Jesse Helms, chairman of the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Asked in an interview if Helms might be hostile to him, Castañeda said: "If that is the case I regret it and I hope to work closely with the U.S. Senate Foreign Affairs Committee to the extent that it is relevant for U.S.-Mexico relations."

Castañeda spoke to Reuters two hours before his appointment was announced by Fox, a businessman-turned-politician who unseated the long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

Fox also unveiled his economic team at the news conference on Wednesday.

Fox, closely advised by Castañeda throughout the closing stages of his election campaign, made waves on a trip to Washington in August when he proposed that the United States should open its borders to migration from Mexico.

Castañeda's father was foreign secreatary under President Jose Lopez Portillo, who ruled between 1976 and 1982, and clashed with the United States over policy toward Central America, which was then torn by civil strife.

The Fox administration planned to appoint an ambassador at large to promote human rights, said Castañeda.

The new government would also strenuously promote the interests of millions of Mexican immigrants living in the United States and concentrated in cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston, he added.

"There will be emphasis on defending Mexicans living in the United States and trying to defend their situation through negotiations with the United States and through the work of the Mexican consulates in the U.S.," said Castañeda.

Mexico would also try to persuade the United States to scrap its annual ritual of granting so-called certification to nations that it deems are pulling their weight in the fight against international narcotics trafficking.

"We will be trying to work with the United States on the replacement of certification with a multilateral arrangement along the lines of what the OAS (Organization of American States) is working on.

Castañeda said that, acting under instructions from Fox, he would promote the nation's image abroad and seek a greater role in the formulation of international economic policy. He did not elaborate.

"We will make a greater effort to modify Mexico's image abroad and to promote an image of a nation at peace where the rule of law exists," he said.

Castañeda also said Mexico was contemplating whether to seek one of the 10 rotating seats on the 15-member United Nations Security Council for a two-year term from 2001 to 2003.

Commentators said in view of Castañeda's controversial reputation in Washington, there would be interest in who the nation appoints as its ambassador to the U.S. capital.

One of the leading contenders for the post is Castañeda's half-brother, Andres Rozenthal, a career diplomat who was formerly ambassador to Britain.