San Diego Union-Tribune

(Page A-1 )

17-Feb-2001 Saturday 

Bush, Fox upbeat after summit
 Both voice high hopes for `shared prosperity' 


George E. Condon Jr. and S. Lynne Walker 
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE 

SAN CRISTOBAL, Mexico -- President Bush heralded "a new day" in U.S.-Mexican relations yesterday after almost five hours of talks with Mexican President Vicente Fox that were notable for the easy casualness of old friends even as they grappled candidly with familiar problems.

The two leaders, both new in their offices, doffed their suit jackets and ties to face reporters from lecterns placed between an alfalfa field and a broccoli field in front of Fox's red-tile-roofed home in this small pueblo
about 210 miles northwest of Mexico City.

Their day of talks, they acknowledged, yielded no solutions for the long-intractable problems of migration, drug trafficking and border pollution. Fox said the two also spoke at length about "the California
problems" caused by power shortages and resulting in soaring energy bills.

But solutions to all these were left to their top aides who got their marching orders from the two leaders.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said he and Attorney General John Ashcroft will meet with their Mexican counterparts "at the earliest moment
in formal high-level negotiations" to address migration of Mexican workers across the border and their treatment in the United States.

Fox, who counseled against expecting "decisions or details" from a presidential meeting, hailed this commitment to negotiations as "a great
advancement over what we had before."

It was for the two presidents to set a tone of mutual respect and friendship, with Bush paying a visit to Fox's ailing 81-year-old mother, jokingly giving a thumbs down to the broccoli grown by Fox -- the vegetable that caused Bush's father considerable grief -- and admiring the horses on Fox's ranch.

That part of the trip went as scripted as Bush and Fox renewed the friendship they first struck while both were governors. The effect was marred, in the eyes of some Mexicans, only by Bush's decision to flex
American military muscle while visiting Mexico.

Fox was peppered with questions at a joint news conference about the airstrike by U.S. and British warplanes against Iraq. Fox brushed aside the
questions, saying, "I see no reason why we should connect one event with the other one."

But other Mexicans were quick to take offense.

"The signal was that the important thing about today was Iraq and not Mexico," said Javier Trevino, former deputy foreign minister for President Ernesto Zedillo. "At 1 p.m. today, the Bush visit to Mexico was over
because at 1 p.m. today, all the news shifted to Iraq."

Bush dismissed the focus on Iraq, calling the attack "routine." Instead, the president wanted to make sure Mexico understood the symbolism of the trip itself.

"Mexico is the first foreign country I have visited as president," Bush said. "And I intended it to be that way."

Fox needed no prompting, hailing the import of that decision.

"The fact that President George Bush's first foreign visit has our country as his destination is a clear message of the interest his administration
places on strengthening links with Mexico," said Fox, calling it "quite a distinction."

Reviewing his talks with Bush, Fox added, "This starting point is very encouraging, so that both Mexicans and Americans together may inaugurate an
era of shared prosperity together."

Turning to address Bush directly, Fox said: "The spirit in which we have conducted this first working meeting marks the beginning of a new stage in our bilateral relations. I am certain that we will be able to take
advantage of the historic opportunity we have today to set out on the way to a century of shared prosperity."

The two men conducted their talks in English, with Fox reverting to Spanish for the nationally televised news conference. He switched back to English only briefly to lavish some praise on his visitor, saying, "I want you to know that we consider you a friend of Mexico, a friend of the Mexican people and a friend of mine."

Bush later returned the praise when he was asked about Mexican irritation at the U.S.-required annual certification of Mexico's commitment to fight
drugs.

"I trust your president," he said. "He's the kind of man you can look in the eye and know he's shooting straight with you."

Bush, who knows some Spanish, did not wear headphones giving the English translation until Fox finished and questions started coming from reporters.

The visiting American, wearing black cowboy boots and a big silver belt buckle, was loose throughout the first news conference of his presidency. He opened his remarks in Spanish before quickly switching to English.

He was all business, though, when questioned about a possible role for Mexico in alleviating California's energy crisis.

"This subject, rightly so, took quite a bit of time in our meeting and is going to take more time down the road," Bush said.

But both Bush and Fox dampened hopes for any short-term Mexican aid.

"We did talk about . . . the possibility as to whether or not in Baja, for example, more power could be added to the Western grid," Bush said. "It's an obvious opportunity, if possible."

But he quickly added, "There are some bottlenecks, and one of the things we need to do is address those bottlenecks, one of which is the ability to transmit power from south to north."

Fox expressed a willingness to help the United States, but added that Mexico today has to import energy and "we do not have enough."

He joined Bush in calling for a common hemispheric policy but stressed that it will have to be a policy "whereby no one takes advantage of the other."

Fox said the leaders also made some progress discussing water problems in areas along the border, reflecting a growing concern that development in
that zone has led to pollution and water shortages.

On the U.S. drug certification, Bush made no promise to press Congress to eliminate the requirement. But, like President Clinton before him, he left little doubt that he finds the certification unnecessary.

"I am certainly going to take the message back to the members of Congress that I firmly believe that President Fox will do everything in his power to
root out the drug lords and to halt drug trafficking as best as he possibly can," he said.

Bush also pleased Mexican officials with an open acknowledgment of U.S. complicity in the drug trafficking south of the border.

"The main reason why drugs are shipped through Mexico to the United States is because United States citizens use drugs," Bush said.

Bush stopped far short of endorsing Fox's call for the open movement of people across the border. Fox nonetheless expressed pleasure at what he heard from Bush, calling this "a great advancement on what we had before."

Bush and Fox sat together in the back of a black armored Chevrolet Suburban flown in from Washington as they made the trip from the airport in Leon to
Fox's ranch. Schoolchildren waved flags, goats grazed and telephone poles were festooned with placards showing two hands joined beneath U.S. and
Mexican flags and the slogan "Prosperando Juntos" -- "Prospering Together."

During a quick stop at the home of Fox's mother, Mercedes Quesada, Bush kissed her on the cheek and chatted in halting Spanish with two of Fox's children and nine of his brothers and sisters.

The president gave her a color photograph of himself and first lady Laura Bush, who stayed behind in Texas.

In return, Bush was given a large platter of cookies.

Bush said he loved the cookies but -- like father, like son -- his glee turned to mock disdain when he was asked what he thought about the broccoli growing so plentifully in the local fields.

He gave a big thumbs down to the vegetable his father barred from the White House menu during his presidency. "Make it cauliflower," the president said.