Secretary of State Colin Powell flies to Mexico City later Monday as head of a Bush administration Cabinet delegation for meetings of the U.S.-Mexico Binational Commission. It will be Mr. Powell's first foreign trip since President Bush's re-election last week.
Mr. Powell will lead a team of several Cabinet members and agency heads, including the Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, for the commission meeting Tuesday, to be hosted by Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez.
State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher says the commission is a unique forum for tackling the broad range of issues affecting the two countries, which share a 3200-kilometer-long border and more than $200 billion a year in annual two-way trade.
"These meetings are of a very unique nature, in that our relationships with Mexico, and with Canada, as well, are so deep, so broad and involve so many things, you know: water, bridge-crossing, trucks, trade, energy strategy, Latin America, democracy in the hemisphere. I mean it's from the biggest of the regional issues to the smallest of the cooperation issues. And, that's why we do something as unique as bringing six or seven Cabinet members from each side together," Mr. Boucher said.
Officials on both sides say immigration, and in particular the status of the estimated three- to four-million undocumented Mexican workers in the United States, will be a key issue for the commission.
President Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox had hoped to conclude an agreement early in Mr. Bush's first term in office, but a deal has proven elusive, especially with the shift in U.S. priorities after the September 2001 terrorist attacks.
Mexican officials say it is time to revisit the issue after the re-election of President Bush, and in light of what they say has been important Mexican cooperation with Washington on combating terrorism and drug trafficking.
President Fox raised the issue in a congratulatory telephone call to Mr. Bush last week, saying the fact that neither country now faces elections anytime soon presents a "window of opportunity" for finding a way to regularize the status of Mexican workers.
The Mexico trip is the first since the U.S. election for Secretary Powell, whose future in the Bush cabinet has been a matter of intense speculation.
Major U.S. newspapers over the past year have quoted sources close to Mr. Powell as saying he would not stay on for a second Bush term.
But spokesman Boucher says Mr. Powell has not discussed the matter with top aides, and is devoting his time and energy to a foreign policy agenda that extends through Iraq's planned elections to be held in January.
Mr. Powell has a busy travel schedule after the Mexico trip, including attending the annual meeting of APEC, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, with President Bush in Chile next week.
He will go directly from there to a November 22 international conference in Egypt aimed at building support for the Iraqi elections, and, in December, will attend meetings with NATO and European Union ministers, and a conference in Morocco on democratic reform in the Middle East.
Mr. Boucher says Secretary Powell serves at the pleasure of the president, and is yet to have a meeting with Mr. Bush on his future with the administration.