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Updated: Senate Confirms New Ambassador to Mexico

The U.S. Senate has unanimously confirmed Deputy Ambassador Earl Anthony Wayne’s nomination.

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Updated Aug. 3:

The U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed Deputy Ambassador Earl Anthony Wayne’s nomination late Tuesday evening, Reuters reported. Mexico’s Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores issued a statement after the confirmation expressing its willingness to work with Wayne to continue to strengthen the relationship between the two countries.

Original story:

The U.S. appears poised to install an ambassador in Mexico, more than four months after the country’s top diplomat resigned amid a public split with the Mexican president.

On a voice vote in late July, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the nomination of Earl Anthony Wayne, a career diplomat, current deputy ambassador to Afghanistan and former ambassador to Argentina. The nomination may go before the full Senate this week. Wayne's appointment would then have to be accepted by the Mexican government. His nomination has been pending since June.

Texas’ U.S. senators — Republicans John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison — declined to comment on whether they would support the nomination.

If confirmed, Wayne would replace former ambassador Carlos Pascual, who resigned after private conversations he had were made public on WikiLeaks. Transcripts revealed that Pascual raised concerns about whether the Mexican government, under the direction of President Felipe Calderón, was doing its best to combat the cartels and militant groups battling each other and the government.

Wayne would be wading into the same testy waters as Pascual, but analysts say the upcoming 2012 presidential elections in Mexico and the U.S. could affect how big of a political player he is.

“No ambassador, no matter what their stripes are, wants to become part of the electoral campaign,” says Eric Olson, a senior associate at the Mexico Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. “He’s going to play a more nuts-and-bolts role trying to keep the trains rolling on time, trying to keep things on track. They are not going to try a new major initiative with an outgoing president." 

Wayne has told Senate committee members that he would prioritize the Mérida Initiative, an agreement negotiated under former President George W. Bush, whereby the U.S. would send Mexico, Central America and Haiti equipment and training valued at $1.4 billion to combat drug gangs and other organized crime. A report issued by the Government Accountability Office last year cited several “challenges” that were hindering implementation of the plan, including staff shortages, funding availability and negotiations of bilateral agreements.

“One of my principal objectives, if confirmed, will be to work with my Mexican and U.S. colleagues to accelerate the implementation of the activities to assure that we are achieving our Mérida objectives,” Wayne told the committee, according to a transcript. As of late June, Wayne said, the U.S. government had delivered $465 million in equipment, technical assistance and training under Mérida since December 2008. Olson says that number should reach $900 million by this fall. Meanwhile, Mexico has allotted $10 billion for security spending this fiscal year, according to Wayne’s statement.

While some might conclude that the Obama administration is drawing a comparison between war-ravaged Afghanistan and violence-prone Mexico by nominating Wayne, Olson says that's not how it should be interpreted. Olson posits that Wayne was nominated because he's a well-known and seasoned diplomat, and says it was a strategic move designed to avoid a tough confirmation. 

“They didn’t want a controversial candidate. If you choose someone who is more of a political appointee than a career foreign service officer it can get caught up in the politics of the situation,” he says. “[With Wayne] you’re not picking someone out of the blue or somebody that the committee is not familiar with."

The fact that the committee advanced the nomination on a voice vote, Olson adds, is a sign that his confirmation is likely to pass the full Senate.

“Afghanistan is a priority country for the United States, and you put your best diplomat in countries of high priority and high sensitivity,” Olson says. “I think you are taking somebody from the front lines of one relationship and putting them on the front lines of another relationship.”

Aside from his service in Argentina and Afghanistan, Wayne has also served as deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of European Affairs, deputy assistant secretary for Europe and Canada, deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Mission to the European Union, director for Western European Affairs at the National Security Council, and as director of Regional Affairs for the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Counter-Terrorism, according to his biography on the White House website. The experience has garnered the recommendation of former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Antonio O. Garza, who held the post from 2002 to 2009.

“Quite apart from an impressive set of credentials, he's got a great feel for Mexico and the bilateral relationship. Not simply the complexity but the breadth,” he says. “His knowledge of economic issues jumps out, but what may ultimately set him apart is his appreciation for the cultural.” With respect to what may await the nominee next year, Garza says Wayne’s “steady 'seen it all, done it all' demeanor should serve the two countries well” during next year’s presidential elections.

Olga Elena Bashbush, a public affairs officer with the U.S. Consulate General’s office in Ciudad Juárez, told the Tribune that if the confirmation goes smoothly, Wayne will likely arrive in Mexico in September or October. 

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