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US, Mexico Discuss Border Security - 2003-01-22

High level talks were held at the White House Tuesday on improving security along the U.S. Mexican border. Homeland Security Secretary- designate Tom Ridge met with Mexico's Interior Minister Santiago Creel.

This was their third face-to-face meeting and it came as the U.S. Senate prepared to vote on the Ridge nomination.

The focus was the bilateral border agreement signed last year in Monterrey, Mexico, by President Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox.

Mr. Ridge said the creation of a Homeland Security Department within the U.S. government will make it easier to implement the accord. He said much is at stake.

"President Bush has said on many occasions that the United States-Mexican relationship and friendship is the most important bilateral relationship we have," he pointed out. "And it is also a relationship that covers the busiest border between any two countries in the world."

He noted that on any given day, the volume of cross-border trade is approximately $650 million. He added that each year more 300 million individuals go back and forth between Mexico and the United States.

"It is for that very reason that the presidents have commissioned us to do whatever we can working together to secure the infrastructure of the border, to secure the legitimate flow of goods and people across that border," said Mr. Ridge. "And it is that effort that Secretary Creel and I have been working on for almost a year and will continue to work to completion."

The Mexican official agreed that once the Homeland Security Department is up and running, efforts to improve border security will substantially increase. Speaking to White House reporters, Mr. Creel, " We will be redoubling our efforts on the border document that our presidents signed earlier this year. And we will be able to continue to work effectively with a great spirit of solidarity on issues of security and migration."

He then offered early congratulations to Mr. Ridge, saying he looked forward to seeing the former Pennsylvania governor confirmed in his new post by the U.S. Senate.