Gore's Message to Mexico Is Warm and Neighborly

VICE President Al Gore Jr. was part peacemaker, part mechanic, and part neighborly next-door-neighbor on his visit to Mexico.

He smoothed over feathers ruffled during the rancorous debate over the North American Free Trade Agreement, tinkered with details on how to put the pact into effect, and served as all-around nice-guy emissary from the north.

Even his wife, Tipper, got into the act during the trip Tuesday and Wednesday, paying a good-natured visit to a local children's hospital while Mr. Gore consulted with Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari.

Gore set the tone from the start, telling a group of flag-waving children at an airport arrival ceremony that ``never have Tipper and I arrived at a location where the welcome has been more spectacular.'' The warm-fuzzy words kept right on coming.

Addressing thousands of business leaders assembled at the National Auditorium in Mexico City on Wednesday, Gore said not only ``thank you'' and ``gracias,'' but also ``obrigado'' - identical messages in English, Spanish, and Portuguese, lest anyone miss the point. And in a bid to erase the bitter aftertaste of the NAFTA squabble, Gore invoked the book of Ecclesiastes' lessons about the seasons, saying, ``This is the time to heal.'' US Eyes N. Korea Nukes

With tough talk coming from North Korea, the Pentagon is giving the White House a list of options on strengthening United States military forces on the Korean Peninsula, Defense Department sources say.

The steps are ``strictly preparatory'' in nature - that is, they would be undertaken only if the tensions over North Korea's nuclear program escalate, said the Pentagon sources, speaking late Wednesday on condition of anonymity.

But the situation is serious enough that Defense Secretary Les Aspin is expected to take the options list to the White House before Tuesday so President Clinton or White House aides can review it, the sources said.

The New York Times reported yesterday that the possible options include increasing the alert status of American forces, increased use of spy satellites, and moving an aircraft carrier closer to the Korean Peninsula.

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