San Diego Union-Tribune

(Page A-7 )

31-Jan-2001 Wednesday 

Powell, Mexican counterpart meet
    Ahead are talks between Bush, Fox 


WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State Colin Powell met yesterday with Mexican Foreign Secretary Jorge Castaneda in a friendly atmosphere despite hints that conflicts may arise over border issues during talks next month between the new presidents of Mexico and the United States.

Preparing for the summit, the two new members of their respective cabinets met privately for 50 minutes at the State Department before appearing together at Powell's first media briefing since being named secretary of state.

They plotted out a broad agenda of issues, including the economy and energy, for President Bush's first foreign trip as president. He will visit
President Vicente Fox at Fox's ranch in Guanajuato state Feb. 16.

Smiling and upbeat, Powell and Castaneda downplayed differences between the countries over immigration, the war on drugs and Mexico's relations with Cuba.

The diplomats said problems along the Southwest border will be among the key issues discussed by Bush and Fox at the summit.

Castaneda said "too many Mexicans" are dying trying to sneak into the United States. Last year, about 400 migrants died of exposure, drowning or accidents, according to immigrant advocacy groups.

"The situation has apparently improved somewhat in recent times, but it is still too high," Castaneda said.

"President Fox will undoubtedly discuss them with President Bush when they meet -- no specific proposals right now, but a very strong commitment to doing something about it."

Powell said of the border deaths, "Clearly, that will be an issue on the agenda." He added, "And I share the secretary's concern that Mexicans are dying in this process."

Earlier yesterday, Castaneda denounced the "intolerable" violence against Mexicans crossing the border into the United States and the
"counterproductive" annual U.S. drug certification program that rates Mexico's drug-fighting efforts.

Mexican officials say tighter U.S. enforcement along the border since 1993 has shifted illegal crossing away from heavily populated areas to remote and harsh terrain.

Powell cited economic development in Mexico as a key to curtailing illegal immigration.

"The thing that really has to be done to solve this problem is to continue to help the Mexican economy grow," Powell said.

"The thing that really has to be done to solve this problem is to continue to help the Mexican economy grow," Powell said.