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Special Event

President George W. Bush Arrives in Mexico for Visit with Vicente Fox

Aired February 16, 2001 - 11:05 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: President Bush is looking south today. He's in Mexico. He's just arrived there. This is his first presidential trip outside the U.S. He and Mexican President Vicente Fox will be meeting at Mr. Fox's ranch, which is a couple of hundred miles northwest of Mexico City.

Let's check in now with our senior White House correspondent John King, who has been traveling with President Bush. He's in Leon, Mexico. He's got the very latest for us now -- John.

JOHN KING, SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Leon.

This a very quick trip: President Bush will be on the ground just a few hours here in Mexico, but the White House saying it was very important to this president, for symbolic reasons, to come to Mexico first. It had been tradition in recent years for the U.S. president to travel first to the north, to Canada. But Mr. Bush, based on his experience as the Texas governor, plus his economic views -- especially on free trade -- wanted to come here to Mexico -- also wanted to be in a familiar place.

He's come here several times before. Eight times he has crossed the border into Mexico from Texas. And, also, Mr. Fox, the president, is a familiar face as well. These men have met three times as well, including when both were governors. And Mr. Fox came to Texas last August when he was the president-elect and Mr. Bush, still the governor of Texas, running in the U.S. presidential campaign -- White house officials saying don't look for any big breakthroughs today.

But they say these men want to build on their personal relationship and begin to discuss many of the very difficult issues between the two countries: drug-trafficking, illegal immigration the most familiar; the California energy crisis also turning a spotlight on plans -- ideas, anyway -- by President Bush to build more cross- border transmission lines and pipelines. There's constitutional issues about that here in Mexico. The energy company here -- major energy company is state run. But two men want to begin those discussions.

No one in California should be expecting any huge immediate help based on this trip. And they want to discuss as well plans for a new migrant-worker program, under which Mexicans who come into the United States work for a period of a year or two, perhaps three -- that debate on going in the United States Congress -- again, though, this the first trip out of the United States as president by George W. Bush -- U.S. officials saying he wanted to send a signal to Mexico and the region that he views trade and good relations throughout the hemisphere as his number-one international priority -- Leon.

HARRIS: Well, John, while you are speaking, we are looking at a live picture from the airport where Mr. Bush has just arrived on Air Force One. We're looking now on the screen at a side shot of Vicente Fox, the president of Mexico, who is waiting to receive President Bush as soon as he steps off the plane. The stairs are rolled up to side of the plane.

Now, as you mentioned, John, these two men have met a numbers of time. What do we know about the personal chemistry between the two?

KING: Well, we know both prefer the informal to the formal -- obviously some formal discussions today, but these meetings taking place on Mr. Fox's ranch. Mr. Bush has a ranch in Texas -- both of these leaders with business experience. Mr. Fox was a Coca-Cola executive before he became a governor and then president in Mexico.

Mr. Bush, of course, worked in the oil industry in Texas and was the managing partner of the Texas Rangers baseball team. Both believe their business experience help them now as they are leaders of their respective nations. And, again, both prefer to be informal. Both like to ride horses. Both like to retreat to the ranch to get away. Indeed, while here today, the meetings will take place on the Fox ranch. And the first thing President Bush will do once he leaves that arrival ceremony: will go meet President Fox's mother -- Leon.

HARRIS: Oh, OK.

Well, John, you have said -- and we've heard this said a number of times by analysts up until now -- that this meeting may not very -- may not result in very much being decide in any way, shape or form. But there -- is it possible, even, to determine whether or not one man can actually gain more than the other through this meeting and through this relationship?

KING: Well, certainly the media reports here in Mexico have been very favorable to this visit. And the U.S. team certainly believes that President Fox gets a boost out of this in the sense that George W. Bush showed that his number-one priority was coming here to Mexico. And the numbers explain why. It's not just a personal relationship.

Trade with Mexico: $80 billion total, the United States and Mexico trade. Back in 1993, you might recall under President Clinton the difficult debate over the North American Free Trade Agreement -- labor unions in the United States objecting to that. But last year, remember: $80 billion in trade in 1993, $230 billion or more in the year 2000. They're still counting up the numbers. Mr. Bush wants to make the case that he should have the power as president to extend those free-trade agreements throughout the hemisphere, throughout Latin and South America as well.

He believes it will be good for the U.S. economy. He also believes it will bring more economic growth and then money to the government to fund things like infrastructure and education, things very much needed here throughout most of Mexico.

HARRIS: What about the issue of drugs and the issue of certification by the U.S. Congress? It's policy that has come up that caused quite a few problems between Mexico and the U.S. of late. And I understand that Mr. Fox is going to probably push George W. Bush pretty hard on that issue.

KING: President Bush will be able to tell him something positive: that there is significant movement in the United States Congress to at least suspend the annual certification process. Mexico thinks it is insulting: the Mexican government saying that the biggest problem is demand for illegal drugs in the United States.

But the United States government's retort is that half of the drugs that enter the United States come in through Mexico. Under the policy now under way, legislation making its way through Congress -- several competing forms right now -- but a growing consensus to suspend that annual certification process for a year or two and allow the two governments in the meantime to negotiate a new framework for how they would cooperate and how they will judge each other in the war on drugs.

So we don't expect a breakthrough on that today. But we do know the new president is not a fan of the certification process -- President Bush in that case. He does not believe it has been effective. And he's working with both Democrats and Republicans in Congress for a period. There's legislation. One bill would suspend that process for one year. Another would suspend it for two years. So there will be some cooperation on that front as well.

And U.S. officials say this is a payback, in essence, for President Fox's promises to crack down on drug-related corruption. They say this new president of Mexico deserves a chance and that the United States should reciprocate to show that if he takes steps here, the United States is going to take steps as well.

HARRIS: Well, it looks as though things are getting off on the good foot this morning, if you will. We're -- as you've been speaking, John, we've watched George W. Bush as he has been warmly greeted by Vicente Fox, who is now going through the line greeting the dignitaries who have arrived there at the airport.

We see there also, in the background -- we see Andy Card, chief of staff of the White House, and Colin Powell, secretary of state also there in the line of dignitaries there with the two presidents on the tarmac. These two presidents, though, do have a very different vision when it comes to the issue of immigration between the two countries, do they not, John?

KING: That is correct, Leon. President Fox prefers ultimately, not tomorrow or next week, but in the near future he would like an open border between the United States and Mexico: unfettered migration back and forth. President Bush has differed with some Republicans who have wanted much more of an aggressive crackdown on illegal immigration.

But he says he will -- he promises to defend the U.S. borders. Again, on that front, though, they're hoping to ease the tension with some interim steps. Right now U.S. officials say there's a demand for workers throughout the United States and that Mexicans are coming across illegally to participate in the U.S. economy, and that many U.S. employers are essentially turning a blind eye, knowing those workers are illegal and employing them.

Under a proposal making its way through the Congress and supported by Mr. Fox -- he has discussed this with key U.S. lawmakers -- would be that a worker could come into the United States with a permit. They would then be covered -- even though they would be a Mexican citizen -- covered by U.S. wage laws -- they would have to be paid the minimum wage -- covered by U.S. safety laws. And they would have money taken out of their check, just like you and I do for Social Security taxes and for government taxes. But instead of that money going to the United States government, it would go into a savings account.

And when their permit ran out and they had to come back to Mexico, they could bring that savings back with them. The senators pushing this bill believe a: The Mexican workers would get training; b: They would be protected by U.S. laws while they were in the United States; and that when they came back, they could bring a little money with them.

HARRIS: The presidents are now engaging in what looks like a mass photo-op. We've just seen, as you were speaking, John, President Fox. He was greeting and welcoming Secretary of State Colin Powell and White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card and also National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who is also aboard on this trip.

One of the other issues, John, that has -- that will come up, we know, is the power -- the issue of power and power transmission between the two countries. That is one that actually is going to entail quite a few tricky little hurdles for the two men to get over and get through, correct?

KING: Yes, it will. On the Mexican side, both the Mexican government and the U.S. Government, as well as energy investors, believe there is enormous potential to tap natural gas here in Mexico. There just has not been the development because of the lack of financial resources. But for U.S. investors to come in now is almost impossible because of the state-run energy industries.

President Fox has said he's open to outside investment, private investment in energy. But he has some legal issues to deal with here in this country. U.S. investors want to make sure, if they pour that money into natural-gas exploration here, that they indeed would be rewarded for that investment. And on the issue of electricity, Mexico's demand is rising as well. The economy here is growing quite rapidly -- industry growing quite rapidly.

So you might ask the question: Why cannot California get more energy from its neighbor, Mexico? Well, Mexico needs most of it. There are now plants under construction in the Baja region. Mexico did offer some help and is providing some modest help to California right now. But it has supply problems as well. So, as they discuss these issues today, they don't expect any big agreements today.

And both governments realize this is more of a three-to-five-to- even-10-year issue. And it's not just with Mexico. President Bush wants to have the same conversations with the Canadian government as well.

HARRIS: Now, one -- since you mentioned the Canadian government, in the past, has it not been the case -- or not the practice -- that presidents, on their first international trips, have gone to Canada, or have at least engaged with Canadians. In this case, Mr. Bush is doing so with the Mexicans first. What's to be read into that?

KING: Both President Clinton and President Bush, this president's father...

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Sorry, go ahead.

HARRIS: John, I'm sorry to interrupt you, but let's listen in now first as they play now the U.S. National Anthem.

("STAR SPANGLED BANNER")

HARRIS: And there we see President Bush there on the tarmac in Mexico, where he has arrived for his meetings with Mexican President Vicente Fox.

And, John, I'm sorry to have interrupted you moments ago as you were beginning your answer there about this trip here to Mexico and why President Bush has chosen Mexico first as opposed to going to Canada, as past presidents have.

KING: Well, Leon, it is a great source of pride here in Mexico that he did so -- and a bit of a concern in Canada. Notice the first international leader he met with as president was the Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, who rushed to arrange a visit to Washington to come to the White House after the Bush administration made clear the president would come here first. Now, the Bush team says don't read too much into this, that we will have close relations with Canada as well -- indeed, a trip to Canada planned in just a little more than a month, or a little under two months, I guess.

And -- but the Bush team saying this president -- and mostly borne of his experience as Texas governor -- wanted to highlight the relationship with Mexico. Some aides also concede: Look, the world is watching, not just the president, but Secretary Powell as well, as they make their first steps onto the world stage, if you will, and that this president wanted to come to a place with which he is familiar from his days as Texas governor and sit across the table from a leader with whom he is familiar, from their three prior meetings.

So two reasons for it: One, the president feels this is probably the best stage for him to step out to -- onto first. But, two, he is committed, his aides say, to pushing for more trade and economic cooperation with Mexico, depoliticizing the issues of drug-trafficking and immigration -- to the degree that that is possible -- and using Mexico in the economic cooperation as an example for spreading trade throughout the hemisphere.

HARRIS: And, of course, we advise our viewers that we will be having coverage of Mr. Bush's visit to Mexico throughout the day here on CNN.

John, do we know how long a slate of meetings they have scheduled for the day?

KING: Well, he'll -- President Bush will be here for about five or six hours total. There are a couple hours where the actual sit- across, leaders-discussing-the-issues meetings. Some of it, though, is just symbolism. President Bush, as I said, will meet President Fox's mother. He will be also presented some gifts here locally, including a pair of cowboy boots.

He is sure to appreciate those, as he will leave here tonight in time to make it to his own ranch in Texas in time for dinner. And we know, while on the ranch in Texas -- this is a president very formal in the Oval Office -- likes to wear his jeans and cowboy boots around the ranch in Crawford.

HARRIS: All right, John, we will let you get back to work there on the ranch there in Leon, Mexico.

And, of course, John King traveling with President Bush -- he'll be on the air throughout the day here with coverage of Mr. Bush's visit to Mexico, short though it may be. And, of course, we'll have more for you right here on CNN, as we step away now, and as the presidents now get ready to leave the airport. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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