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Drug issue moves to Senate where view differs from House

March 14, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A bipartisan proposal gaining support in the Senate would continue President Clinton’s seal of approval of Mexico’s anti-drug efforts.

The House voted 251-175 Thursday to overturn Clinton’s declaration that Mexico is cooperating fully unless the Mexican government takes specific steps against illegal drugs within 90 days.

The House bill to decertify Mexico and mark it as uncooperative would preserve Clinton’s power to waive sanctions normally triggered by decertification.

The vote brought sharp responses from Clinton and Mexico.

Clinton said it would make it more difficult for Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo to work with U.S. officials against ``the scourge of drugs.″ Mexico’s foreign ministry said it would boost drug traffickers.

Zedillo, in Japan for a state visit, accused U.S. lawmakers of ``seeking pretexts in order not to confront a problem which has become very serious in their own country ... they are looking for someone to put the blame on.″

But House supporters hailed the resolution as a necessary step to show dissatisfaction with Mexico and to protect Americans from drugs.

The key issue, said Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, is whether Congress ``is going to demonstrate a resolve to save not only our children but the children of Mexico as well from what can only be described as the horrors of drug trafficking.″

In the Senate, lawmakers from both parties raised concerns that overturning Clinton’s certification of Mexico would hurt relations with a close neighbor, possibly harm Mexico’s economy and hinder the anti-drug effort in both countries.

Three border-state Republicans and two Democrats announced a Senate proposal they expect to prevail next week that would retain certification while setting new goals with Mexico for the battle against drugs.

``We must all admit that we are losing the war on drugs. And it is hurting our country, and it is hurting Mexico. And the only way we are going to solve it is to work together to make it happen,″ said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas.

``I believe in the end the Senate is going to go with something along the lines of what we’re doing rather than the slap in the face of decertification,″ she said.

Hutchison was joined by Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Pete Domenici of New Mexico in sponsoring the resolution, which she said would be offered as a substitute for a decertification measure already introduced in the Senate.

Also signing on with the Republicans were Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., who had opposed Clinton on certification, and Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., who supported the president.

``A 90-day delay, in my view, would keep the issue dangling out there, would be unsettling in our relations, and might even provide some hindrance to our moving ahead with the Mexicans in this effort,″ Domenici said.

Clinton is also getting support from former President George Bush, who told Free Trade Alliance San Antonio on Thursday night that the House vote is a ``tragic mistake.″

Bush said ``showing respect for our neighbors is paramount″ and that decertification will be perceived south of the border as ``the U.S. talking down to Mexico,″ which would be a setback for the North American Free Trade Agreement and free markets.

The 90-day provision in the House bill, passed as a compromise to immediate rejection of Clinton’s certification, brought several key Democrats, including Majority Leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri, back in line with the president on the final vote.

Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., a leading Democratic foreign policy expert who strongly opposed Clinton’s action, voted against the bill partly because he said it would put Mexico’s president ``in a box.″

``We can be sure that no one in Mexico, especially not the president, will be able to advance this critical initiative without being accused″ of giving up Mexican sovereignty, Hamilton said, noting that Mexico faces a midterm election July 6.

Under the House-passed legislation, Mexico would lose certification unless within 90 days it:

_Allows more U.S. narcotics agents into the country.

_Allows American law officers to carry weapons in Mexico.

_Extradites Mexicans sought by U.S. officials on drug charges.

_Improves air security over the border.

_Allows drug traffickers to be chased into Mexican waters by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Meantime, the second-ranking official at the Drug Enforcement Administration spoke Thursday about the difficulty in dealing with Mexican authorities on drug cases.

``There is not one organization, not one group in law enforcement within Mexico that we have been able to work with and have total trust in,″ James Milford, the DEA’s deputy administrator, was quoted as saying in today’s editions of The Miami Herald.

``We have not seen any enforcement initiative that has been successful in recent times,″ he said.

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