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Presidents Bush, Fox Discuss U.S./Mexico Relations

Aired March 22, 2002 - 19:57   ET


BILL PRESS, HOST, "CROSSFIRE": Here we go to President Bush and President Vincente Fox from Mexico with a live news conference starting right now.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Mr. George Bush, have just held two meetings. One was private and the other one was their (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

For this press conference, the joint press conference, the mechanics to be followed are first, Mr. President Fox has a brief statement and then another one by President Bush. After that, we shall have a Q&A session, three rounds, alternatively, one Mexican, one American, and then one Mexican press member.

As before, we ask you to please concentrate your questions on the meeting that our mandatories (ph) just had on the bilateral subjects. President Fox will speak first.

VINCENTE FOX, PRESIDENT, MEXICO: Good afternoon. Thank you very much. Yes, in fact, it has been a very productive meeting, a meeting where we have touched upon three subjects, three chapters.

One deals with what we have called the border alliance, more intelligent borders, the smart border initiative. The purpose is firstly to introduce the safety factor and hold it as an important priority, and at the same time, with the same emphasis, to seek for efficient borders, customs that are efficient as well, for an expeditious flow both of people, merchandise, products. And in this sense, what we seek is for those using these crossings, which are hundreds of thousands of people every day, to do so with that efficiency we are talking about.

Likewise, within this same sense, we talked about a program to modernize, technologically speaking, our borders, and this would promote that efficiency.

Within this same category, we have also spoken about opening airports that have traffic both in the United States and Mexico, a line to take care of the Mexicans and Canadians coming into Mexico, and in the case of Mexico, taking care of U.S. citizens and Canadian citizens. The second topic is what we have called the Partnership for Prosperity, where there are plenty of topics, but the specific purpose is to generate opportunities for advancement, opportunities for income and mainly in communities with high migratory rates in Mexico.

For this purpose, we have spoken of joint efforts to facilitate resources for micro-, small and medium-sized companies, for the ones that are generating the highest number of jobs. We have spoken of also working to bring down the cost of migrators who (inaudible) to their families in Mexico, in this way facilitating those resources, becoming productive projects toward important generation of employment and opportunities.

We talked about an important program of scholarships, where on the U.S. side there will be investments up to $50 million precisely to promote these scholarships and promote to the state level, the creation of scholarships for university. This is important in the purpose of creating, forming human resources.

And on the other hand, we also spoken of generating and facilitating resources for infrastructure, especially at the border. Infrastructure for an efficient use of the water, for water treatment plants, infrastructure for ecological or environmental purposes at the border and some other investments in infrastructure along the same lines at the border.

On the other hand, I believe it is very significant, and we have talked about it again, to have this great drive that has been announced by President Bush at the Financing for Development Conference. And it's the purpose to try to increase support resources for countries that are not as developed -- for poorer countries. We have heard from many leaders, presidents, many heads of state who truly expressed this most welcome information and welcome announcement.

And of course, the same goes for us. We are not a country to receive the help, but we clearly understand that there are countries who require this help to combat poverty, very close to us, such as the case of Central America.

So we hope that these additional funds -- I repeat -- have been very welcome -- well-received by the community of smaller countries present here this time.

These same resources, also part of them, to be used in these countries of Latin America or Central America. This effort of what has come to be called the participation in the millennium, the challenge of the millennium, is important for us, and we have verified this importance it has for the community of countries.

Thank you.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: President Fox, thank you for your hospitality and thank you for hosting the important conference on reducing global poverty. It is a success thanks to your leadership and your vision. I'm so glad that the world could see Monterrey, Mexico. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) realize that as a result of President Fox's vision this country is reforming. It's a vibrant place, it's an exciting place for people to live, people are finding jobs in Mexico.

Mr. President, I'm grateful to call you friend, and thank you for your leadership as well.

I try to remind people in my country as many times as I can, a vibrant, prosperous Mexico is in the best interests of the United States of America.

You were at the White House on September the 5th, and here's what I said then: "The United States has no more important relationship in the world than the one we have with Mexico." I believed it on September the 5th; I believe it today.

And since September the 11th, those words have been tested and proven. I deeply appreciate President Fox's early support and his continuing advice. And on behalf of the American people, I thank the people of Mexico for their support and sympathy.

The relationship between the United States and Mexico is very strong. It's very important. And it's growing stronger every day.

America respects Mexico's culture and Mexico's achievements. By embracing markets and fiscal discipline, Mexico has created one of the most resilient economies in the region. And through NAFTA, our nations have forged one of the world's most dynamic trading relationships.

Every day, we exchange more than $650 million worth of commerce, creating wealth and opportunity for consumers and workers and families on both sides of the border. President Fox and I are determined to expand the benefits of free markets to all our citizens. As part of our Partnership for Prosperity, we will help focus private investment on less-developed parts of Mexico, creating more jobs and more opportunities for more people.

President Fox and I are determined to make our shared border modern, efficient and secure. The smart border declaration our countries have just signed will move us toward this important goal. Our common border must be closed to drugs and terrorists and open to trade and legitimate travel.

America is grateful for Mexico's fight against the drug cartels. And I salute your many breakthroughs this year, Mr. President.

President Fox and I talked about migration. Last year, we established a process to address this issue. We're making good and steady progress. Migrants make a valuable contribution to America.

It's also important for our nation to recognize as we discussed immigration, Mexico has got a unique place in this issue. Mexico is different from other countries, not only because of our proximity, but because of our special relationship. We made some progress this year on the issue called 245-I. It's an important piece of legislation. It allowed families to stay together. It passed the House of Representatives. Unfortunately, it got stalled in the United States Senate.

And my hope, Mr. President, is we're able to get it out of the United States Senate and to my desk so I can sign it.

President Fox and I agreed on measures to reform the North American Development Bank, known as NAD Bank. We will increase the bank's ability to make low-interest loans to address urgent environmental priorities along the border. We also agreed to expand the bank's range so more people can benefit.

Mexico and America are proud nations united by timeless values; by democracy, by faith, and by freedom. We have a modern relationship sustained by mutual respect and trust.

We've entered a new era of trade and cooperation and prosperity. And the United States and Mexico are building an historic partnership, one which will benefit both of our peoples and provide a good example for the rest of the world.

QUESTION: Have you or General Zinni heard anything from Chairman Arafat (OFF-MIKE) an Israeli-Palestinian truce and honoring President Fox's request that (OFF-MIKE) signed? Can I also ask you explain why your administration's withholding the $34 million that Congress appropriated to the United Nations' Population Fund? Why (OFF-MIKE) this year's budget?

And, President Fox, do you have any thoughts on the Bush administration's decision on the United Nation's Population Fund?

BUSH: Let me start with the latter. That violated the one- question rule.

I said we're not going to use taxpayers' money to fund abortion, and we're going to make sure that before we spend taxpayers' money that we're not funding abortion.

And as to your first question, as I have said all along, General Zinni will assess the situation in the Middle East. And a meeting could happen if and when Chairman Arafat performs, does what he's supposed to do. Those conditions have been laid out by Vice President Cheney, and now General Zinni is trying to determine whether or not he is going to do what he said he would do.

QUESTION: Your reaction to President Bush's (OFF-MIKE) United Nations Population Fund (OFF-MIKE)

FOX (through translator): No comment.


QUESTION (through translator): Mr. President, what is the relationship between Mexico and Cuba now after Ricardo Alarcon made the government of Mexico responsible for President Castro's early departure?

BUSH: First of all, I know of no pressure placed on anybody. I mean, Fidel Castro can do what he wants to do. And what I'm uncomfortable about is the way he treats his people. There's only one country that's not a democracy in our hemisphere and that's Cuba, and it makes me uncomfortable to realize that there is still one country that doesn't have free press, freedom to speak, freedom to realize your dreams.

And I feel strongly about that. And I'm going to continue to speak out on the fact that this island is a place of repression, a place where the people don't have hope.


BUSH: I don't know what you're talking about about pressuring anybody. I just said that.

FOX (through translator): There has been no modification in our relationships. We said goodbye to Mr. Fidel Castro. His visit ended, and there is no modification or alteration.

QUESTION: Mr. President, are you prepared to offer (OFF-MIKE)

BUSH: On the drug surveillance issue, we have yet -- not made up our mind yet. We're analyzing not only what took place in the past, but the most effective way to help Peru fight narcotics.

First part of the question, I'm sorry.


BUSH: We're going to analyze all options available to help Peru. But the first place we need to help Peru is to get the Andean Trade Preference Act out of the U.S. Congress. One of the messages I'm taking to not only Peru but the other Andean nations is ATPA is important. It's important to my administration. It's important to their future. And I'd like to see it renewed as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: Thank you. Good afternoon.

The Cuban government says that the Mexican government was pressured. The Mexican government said they had no pressure. Who is lying, Mr. President Fox?

Who is lying, Mr. President Bush, the Cubans or the Mexicans? Thank you.

BUSH: I thought I just answered that question. Maybe I missed it, or you did.


FOX (through translator): There is no such thing. Mr. Fidel Castro, visited Mexico, visited the conference -- the U.N. conference. He was here. He participated in the conference and he returned to Cuba. Nothing more.

QUESTION: During his recent trip to the Middle East, the vice president made it very clear at each stop he told our Arab allies that no military action against Iraq is imminent. Is it at all true that this administration is telling our allies, Arab allies and others around the world, that this government is, however, committed -- as committed to removing Saddam Hussein from power as the administration was for removing the Taliban?

BUSH: Let me put it to you this way, David. What we're telling our friends is that Saddam Hussein is a man who is willing to gas his own people, willing to use weapons of mass destruction against Iraq citizens.

Evidently there's a new article in New York magazine, or New Yorker magazine, or some East Coast magazine, and it details about his barbaric behavior toward his own people. And he not only did it to his own people, he did it to people in his neighborhood.

And this is a man who refuses to allow us to determine whether or not he still has weapons of mass destruction, which leads me to believe he does. He is a dangerous man who possesses the world's most dangerous weapons. And it is incumbent upon freedom-loving nations to hold him accountable, which is precisely what the United States of America will do.

I haven't had a chance to explain this to our Mexican friends, but a nightmare scenario, of course, would be if a terrorist organization such as Al Qaeda were to link up with a barbaric regime such as Iraq, and thereby, in essence, possess weapons of mass destruction. We cannot allow that to happen.

And so, David, what I have told others, including President Fox, is we have no imminent plans to use military operations. We'll be deliberate. We'll consult with our friends and allies. But we'll deal with Saddam Hussein. And he knows that. And that's exactly what I've been saying ever since I've been the president.


BUSH: As I said, yes, we'd like to see a regime change in Iraq. That's been the longstanding policy of the U.S. government. Nothing is new there. That's precisely what has been said since I became president of the United States.

But close consultations with our friends from all around the world. And I think people got a pretty good sense of how I view him.

And I hope that, of course, he allows inspectors to go into his country, like he promised he would do, not for the sake of letting inspectors in, but to showing the world that he has no weapons of mass destruction.

QUESTION (through translator): Good evening, Mr. President. If truly your government has contemplated some date (ph) about the migratory agreement with Mexico, and also here at the forum there was something from former President Carter for amnesty for 3 million Mexican workers in the U.S., your government would consider legalizing them or are you saying no?

BUSH: The best way to describe what is possible in the United States is that beyond 245-I, which is the family reunification, is first of all understanding the unique nature of the Mexican in our country, that the Mexican national is different by virtue of the fact of proximity to the United States, and that we do have a special relationship between our countries, not only defined by NAFTA, but defined by cultural ties and historic ties.

And so I think that ought to be a part of any discussions, but here is my attitude. I think what our country ought to do is to help match any willing employer with any willing employee so that if somebody is looking for somebody who wants to work, and somebody wants to work, we can facilitate that arrangement.

And we've got a lot of discussions and work to do, but what I've assured President Fox and his administration is that we will continue working on this issue. We've got technical groups working on it, and he and I will continue working on it.

FOX (through translator): Thank you very much. Good evening.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: You have just been listening to listening to a press conference with President George Bush and Mexican President Vincente Fox. I'm Anderson Cooper at CNN headquarters in New York. We just brought you that press conference from Monterrey, Mexico, Mexico's third largest city, live.

The president is down in Mexico for a U.N. conference on development. He met with President Fox for about an hour. Before that press conference, they also met earlier in the day in a three-way meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien. Mexico is President Bush's first stop on a four-day trip of Latin America. He and Fox had reached a 22-point smart border plan, they're calling it, similar to an agreement the U.S. signed with Canada earlier in December.

Major Garrett is covering the president in Mexico and he joins us now. Major Garrett, anything surprising coming out of that press conference?

MAJOR GARRETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Not really, Anderson. And a couple of things worth setting the stage for. You know, the president and President Fox of Mexico before the events, the tragic events of September 11, were working on a massive change in U.S./Mexican immigration policy. Vincente Fox had often talked about open borders. And the administration at least entertained the idea of some type of full blown amnesty for illegal Mexican immigrants already in the United States.

Well, those talks have simply not produced any major breakthroughs. So while here, President Bush knew he couldn't talk about the immigration issue with any particular breakthrough with President Fox, so he talked about smaller developmental issues between the countries and also, these border security talks.

Some of the details are kind of arcane. It's to improve the efficient movement of legal traffic and legal goods through the borders, but also to step up cross-border cooperation between both countries dealing with drugs and potential terrorists.

But a couple of other things at the press conference. There's been a lot of talk here, Anderson, about whether or not the United States government in any way pressured the Mexican host of this international conference on development to discourage the lengthy presence here in Monterrey of Fidel Castro, the Cuban dictator. President Bush said twice and was asked twice about it, sort of the suggestion of just how much this has been talked about here, whether or not he applied any pressure to Vincente Fox. He said absolutely not. U.S. officials here have also backed him up. President Fox said as much as well. But it is clear that Fidel Castro left here earlier than scheduled. His own people have said something happened here. We really can't describe what it was, but we felt we were uncomfortable here, not welcome here, so we left. Kind of a big issue in Latin America.

On the Middle East and on Iraq, the president said what he has always said about Iraq. Saddam Hussein is a threat. The United States will deal with him when it sees fit and will consult with allies before it does so. On the Middle East, senior administration officials here have made it very clear that if there is not to be a meeting between Vice President Cheney and the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, it will be because the Palestinian leader, Mr. Arafat, did not do enough to quell violence within his own ranks, terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Major, stand by with us. I want to bring in Bill Schneider, senior political analyst with CNN who is in Los Angeles. Bill, what was your take on this press conference? Any surprises that you heard?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: I didn't hear any surprises. I think Major is right. He did lay out as clearly as he has in the past, and perhaps more so, that the United States does intend to deal with Saddam Hussein, but on our own terms and in our own time. And we will not do so without consulting with our allies.

He also said, quite straightforwardly, the big controversy in Monterrey over Fidel Castro, there was no pressure from the United States. One is curious to find out exactly what the Cubans are complaining about and what is causing the controversy. But the president simply ruled out any pressure coming from the U.S.

COOPER: Bill, the audience President Bush was speaking to was also a domestic audience here in the United States. Talk a little bit about the domestic significance. Who is he trying to appeal to here in the United States? Obviously, among the Hispanic community, it's an important voting block.

SCHNEIDER: Well, you know, Vincente Fox visited the United States just before the September 11 attacks. It was a major occasion, and it was the first state visit of President Bush abroad when he went to Mexico. So he clearly wants to make some kind of a statement about the closeness of U.S./Mexican relations. He wants to do something, a real breakthrough on the issue of illegal immigrants in the United States.

And there was an ambitious proposal being talked about in early September that sort of went by the wayside after September 11. Now, the president is picking up that agenda again, but in more modest ways. He's talking about a bill that passed the House, not the Senate yet, which would allow illegal immigrants in the United States who have family or employer sponsorship to apply for permanent visas, the green cards, without having to go back to Mexico first. That would be a big step and a breakthrough, but it wouldn't affect all 3 million illegal immigrants in the United States. He's talking about aid to Mexico, to try to discourage migration. Smart border technology to try to separate legitimate from questionable border crossings.

These are small steps, but nothing like the ambitious program that was talked about earlier. But still, what he has in mind as a target is one of the fastest growing minorities in America, which is the Hispanic community, primarily Mexican and Mexican-American.

COOPER: Major, I want to ask you, President Bush is expected to go now to Lima, Peru, I believe, tomorrow. Obviously, there was a car bombing there just a few days ago. Security is on a lot of people's minds. But really, the message that he's bringing to Peru is one of free trade.

GARRETT: It's one of free trade and also to let the Andean leaders know that the United States will do what it can to support a neighboring democracy, Colombia, in its very difficult military dispute with the FARC, the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia, the Marxist rebels who are engaged in a rather intense civil war against the democratically elected government of Andres Pastrana. The president has asked for a few extra million dollars in supplemental funding to help U.S.-backed, anti-narcotics efforts in Colombia.

Those might also become efforts to suppress the Marxist insurgency as well. The president will talk to the leaders throughout the Andean region about that, but also his full-fledged support for a free trade agreement, linking the United States with Andean nations. That agreement expired in December. The president made reference to it in the press conference. He wants Congress to reinstitute that as soon as possible -- Anderson?

COOPER: All right. Major Garrett with us in Monterrey, Mexico. Thanks very much for joining us. I know you have had a long day. Appreciate you coming with us tonight. Bill Schneider in Los Angeles, thanks very much.





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