San Diego Union Tribune

March 24, 2005

A pledge of partnership
Bush, Fox, Martin hold summit; some divisive issues are skirted

By George E. Condon Jr.

WACO, Texas – President Bush convened a North American summit yesterday, pledging a new "security and prosperity partnership" after talks with the leaders of Mexico and Canada.

But a meeting here at Baylor University and one later at Bush's ranch in Crawford skirted immigration and trade issues that strain U.S. ties with its closest neighbors.

Mexican President Vicente Fox remains frustrated at Bush's failure to push through immigration changes and is angry about recent attempts by U.S. citizens to patrol sections of the border.

Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin recently irked Bush by refusing to let Canada participate in a missile defense system for North America, and Canada is frustrated by its inability to secure better access to the U.S. market for its soft wood products and its beef.

At a news conference after the talks, though, the leaders preferred to stress their vision for continental solidarity. Also unmentioned was the Mexican and Canadian governments' opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

"Today, we begin a new phase," said Fox, who said the three leaders want to present a united front to terrorists and other "new threats" to North America.

"We've got a lot to do," said Bush, saying that the three leaders have given their aides 90 days to work out ways to strengthen port, aviation and cargo security, improve intelligence cooperation, develop a common approach for screening travelers, protect against threats to agriculture and bolster protection of infrastructure.

Bush also stressed the need to keep their economies robust and make trade easier while stiffening border security.

"We've got a lot of crossings of the border," he said, adding, "I intend to make our borders more secure and facilitate legal traffic."

Martin said the talks had given the countries a new "road map" to move beyond their disagreements.

After their formal talks at the university, the three leaders doffed their suit coats and ties and helicoptered to Bush's ranch about 35 miles away. There, Bush said beforehand, they would be "talking about the neighborhood."

That discussion came over a lunch of cheese biscuits, grilled chicken breast, fried shrimp, brownies and vanilla ice cream and while strolling along rows of small native oak trees just starting to show their buds as the temperature hit 70 degrees.

But even with the relaxed spirit of the day, Martin could not resist stating his opposition to Bush's missile defense system and his unhappiness over the two-year-old ban on Canadian beef imports because of mad cow disease. Martin also wanted to talk about the three-year-old trade war between the powerful U.S. lumber lobby and Canadian soft wood producers.

On missile defense, he said firmly, "the file is closed." He will not reconsider his decision, which surprised and annoyed the White House to the extent that Bush refused for nine days to take a phone call from the prime minister on the topic.

But Martin stressed Canada will continue to work with the United States on defense matters, citing the presence of Canadian troops in Afghanistan.

Bush mildly protested a reporter's calling the differences "sharp."

"Look, we've got differences," he said. But they do not "prevent us from finding common ground."

He said the missile defense dispute will not spill over into other areas.

"We had an issue with cows, and that is getting resolved," he said.

Fox came to Texas with low expectations, officials close to him said. He was reportedly frustrated that there would be little time to talk about border and immigration issues. Instead, he told reporters, immigration was discussed primarily as a "trilateral issue" involving the need to tighten security at both borders.

"We discussed the issue of border crossings and how we can protect our borders and be efficient along the border, and also how we can keep people from crossing who shouldn't be crossing and address the threats that our nations have faced," Fox said.

A joint statement committed the leaders to finding a way to "improve the legitimate flow of people and cargo at our shared borders." But they did not say how they could tighten border security while making it easier for legitimate border crossers.

Bush cast the problem as a daunting one, noting that 1 million people a day cross the border from Mexico to the United States.

"How do we make sure those crossing the border are not terrorists or drug runners or gun runners or smugglers?" he said.

Bush assured Fox that he remains committed to a guest-worker program and more humane treatment of Mexicans in the United States.

But Bush quickly added, "You don't have my pledge that Congress will act because I'm not a member of the legislative branch."

Fox made no public mention of another irritant – the decision last month by Congress to fund barriers along the border south of San Diego. Mexicans derisively call it the "Tortilla Wall," and Fox attacked it in the days leading up to his trip to Waco.

"We are convinced that walls don't work," he said then, demanding that it "must be demolished."

In reply to questions, Bush strongly condemned the groups of Americans who have started patrolling the border on their own.

"I'm against vigilantes in the United States of America," he said. "I'm for enforcing law in a rational way. That's why you've got a Border Patrol, and they ought to be in charge of enforcing the border."

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