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Former President Bush Visits Mexico - 2003-05-14

President Bush's father, former President George Bush, made a brief visit to Mexico, Tuesday, where he reassured Mexican President Vicente Fox that relations between his country and the United States remain strong, despite of differences over the war in Iraq. The visit followed other efforts by both nations to keep relations on track.

In what was described as a private visit, former President Bush arrived at the Mexican presidential residence -- known as Los Pinos -- where he was greeted by a smiling President Fox. The two men stood and spoke casually for a few minutes, while photographers snapped pictures. They did not speak with reporters.

After the closed-door meeting inside the residence, Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez described the meeting as a manifestation of friendship between Mexico and the United States. He says the former president provided a clear recognition of the deep friendship President Bush, the current president, feels for President Fox.

After the meeting at Los Pinos, former President Bush went on to meet with Mexican business leaders here in Mexico City and in a brief stop in Monterrey, on his way back to his home in Houston.

The meeting was the focus of intense media attention in Mexico, because of fears expressed by many commentators here Washington would, in some way, "punish" Mexico for its failure to back the U.S. proposal on Iraq in the U.N. Security Council, earlier this year. Mexico holds a non-permanent seat on the Security Council. Opinion polls show more than 80 percent of Mexicans opposed the war in Iraq and there were several large demonstrations against the war in Mexico City and in other parts of the country in March and April.

In statements last week, President Fox expressed confidence relations with the United States would continue to be close. He said he looked forward to the meeting with the former president as what he called "an opportunity to strengthen the relationship."

In recent weeks, there have been several high-profile visits back and forth across the border by American and Mexican officials, demonstrating the continuing cooperation between the two nations on such issues as trade and security. In a meeting between Foreign Minister Derbez and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell last week, both men expressed satisfaction with the state of bilateral relations and noted continuing cooperation on such issues as the fights against drug smuggling and terrorism.

But there appears to be no progress on an immigration agreement to provide some form of legal status to the estimated four million Mexican workers who entered the United States illegally and continue to reside there. This issue is important to Mexico because immigrants north of the border send back nearly ten billion dollars a year to family members here in Mexico. An immigration accord ceased being a priority for the Bush administration after the September, 2001, terrorist attacks and there is no expectation that the two nations will begin negotiations on the issue any time soon.