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Mexican Defense Minister to Discuss Possible Joint North American Military Force

MEXICO CITY (AP) - Mexico's defense secretary, Gen. Gerardo Vega, was flying to Washington on Thursday to discuss military cooperation that might link U.S., Mexican and Canadian forces against terrorism in a way that NAFTA has linked North America's economies.

The plan apparently is based on a U.S. Army War College report in 1999 that suggested a North American peacekeeping force that would be headquartered in the United States but include command posts that would rotate between Mexico and Canada.

"One of the programs the general will discuss in the United States is a continental command that would use the North American Free Trade Agreement as a basis,'' a Defense Department spokesman said. Department policy required him to speak on condition of anonymity.

The newspaper El Sol de Mexico reported on Tuesday that such talks were part of Vega's agenda and quoted U.S. officials as saying discussion of the idea was "a positive step.''

Mexico has not committed to such a plan, which would imply a historic shift in the country's military policy. It would also face enormous domestic political opposition.

While Mexican pilots participated on the Allied side in World War II, the country since then has shied away from most multilateral military programs, refusing to let its soldiers serve in U.N. peacekeeping missions, for example.

Many Mexican politicians also remain profoundly wary of increasing ties to their powerful northern neighbor, particularly military ties.

"Trilateral initiatives have always been welcome in Mexico but our country cannot become a land of Rambo or Arnold Schwarzenegger,'' said Congressman Jaime Alcantara, a member of the lower house's Defense Commission.

Alcantara, of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which has a plurality in Congress, said that "Mexico does not intervene in the affairs of other countries and that is an important reason it has not suffered the terrorist attacks the United States and Canada want to guard against.''

President Vicente Fox and his conservative National Action Party have worked to move Mexico toward greater cooperation with the United States on border security, free trade and migration concerns.

"The fight against terrorism is an international one and I think Mexico understands how important cooperation is,'' said National Action legislator Benjamin Mucino. "Any plan that will allow Mexico to work together with its neighbors is a step in the right direction.''

But when Foreign Secretary Jorge Castaneda condemned the attacks of Sept. 11, Mexican lawmakers spent hours grilling him about the possibility Washington might force Mexico to send troops to Afghanistan.

"Mexico's people are not interested in building a command that will force Mexican soldiers to take orders from American soldiers,'' said Mucino, also a member of the lower house's Defense Commission.

"We do not have the military resources, the political interest or the public support to become a launch pad for U.S. and Canadian forces that want to keep watch on Central America, South America or anywhere else.''

Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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