MEXICO CITY -- Mexico has quietly dropped its 2-year-old fight to eliminate two politically explosive U.S. conditions for signing a long-stalled drug treaty.
In Washington, State Department officials said Mexico's actions were a praiseworthy indication of how far President Carlos Salinas de Gortari was willing to go to win a congressional green light for the proposed free-trade agreement among Canada, Mexico and the United States.
Congress is expected to vote this month on extending President Bush's "fast track" authority to negotiate trade agreements, including the pact with Mexico. The authority limits the House and Senate to accepting or rejecting the treaty without amendments.
The drug treaty's ratification instruments, signed in Mexico City last Friday, had been languishing in the Mexican Foreign Relations Ministry after Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., attached two conditions during the Senate's 1989 ratification.
The most "insulting" condition would forbid the United States from sharing drug crime information with any Mexican official Washington deemed to be involved in the narcotics trade.
The other says that in pursuing Mexican requests for drug information, the United States cannot violate the U.S. Constitution. The Supreme Court has never fully ruled if treaties and the Constitution have equal weight.
Perhaps more important is the fact that the conditions came from Mr. Helms, whose reputation as the Darth Vader of U.S.-Mexico relations was earned several years ago when he linked unnamed high Mexican officials with the drug trade.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff members said they have been unable to get copies of the treaties despite repeated requests to the State Department. Senator Helms is the ranking Republican on the committee.
Sen. Ifigenia Martinez Hernandez, a member of the Mexican Senate's Foreign Affairs Committee and a member of the opposition Party of the Democratic Revolution, said dropping objections to the provisions "is news to me. . . . The government appears to have done an about-face. It was always agreed that the treaty could not go into effect with the Helms conditions."
In 1988, shortly after the treaty was first proposed, Bernardo Supulveda Amor, then foreign minister, privately told reporters that Mexico would never sign it if Mr. Helms' "insulting" conditions were attached. The Mexican Senate ratified the treaty in 1987, but the signing was held up.
In authorizing the signing of the treaty instruments, Mr. Salinas last month inserted his own caveat, saying that the Helms conditions had no legal standing for Mexico or the United States and that Mexico would only abide by the treaty language.
But Robert A. Friedlander, chief minority counsel for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that Mr. Salinas' view was "a smoke screen. The Helms understandings are binding on the U.S., not Mexico, despite what Salinas says."
In announcing the exchange of ratification instruments, State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said last Friday that the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty "brings into force" a direct channel between the attorneys general of both countries.