In the past several months, since his arrival in Mexico, U.S. Ambassador Tony Garza has had to contend with tensions over the war in Iraq and a general cooling in relations between Mexico and the United States. But, in a VOA interview, the ambassador says the bilateral relationship remains healthy and strong. Earlier this year differences between Mexican President Vicente Fox and President Bush became apparent over the issue of Iraq. Mexico, which holds a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, did not support the use of force in Iraq. Newspaper headlines in both countries spoke of a breakdown in the once cozy relations between the two presidents and there was even speculation as to how the United States might punish Mexico for having failed to support the Bush policy on Iraq.

But U.S. Ambassador Tony Garza says much of this was overblown. He says the relationship has continued to be good in almost every other aspect.

"I point to the mutual efforts with respect to law enforcement, our efforts to crack down on narco-traffickers," he said. "Mexico has worked very closely with respect to counter-terrorism, securing both our border and our two countries. So, while many can point to one very important vote to us where Mexico did not support us, with respect to Iraq, we can also point to a whole host of areas where we continue to work together."

One of the chief goals of Mexican foreign policy is to negotiate an immigration accord with the United States to provide legal status to undocumented Mexicans working north of the border. Some migrant advocates have backed the idea of an amnesty similar to what was done in the immigration reform law of 1986.

But there are also conservatives who want to put severe limits on immigration as part of an effort to prevent more terrorist attacks. The Bush administration has expressed interest in an immigration agreement, but it has placed security as its top priority.

Ambassador Garza says recent speeches in the U.S. Congress show immigration reform remains a vital topic.

"My Texas senator, John Cornyn, was on the Senate floor discussing migration and the need to return to having a serious dialogue, a serious debate about how we are going to provide for reform that recognizes our labor needs but, at the same time, does not grant amnesty to people," he said. "I don't think anybody can point to what we did in 1986 and say it was successful. But that is a debate our Congress has to have."

Ambassador Garza, who has known President Bush since the time when the two of them were entering the political arena in Texas more than a decade ago, says he knows the president remains committed to good bilateral relations.

"When he has characterized this relationship as the single most important one that the United States enjoys, it puts a special responsibility, a special burden on me," Ambassador Garza said. "But it is nice knowing that this is a relationship that is as important to him as it is to me."

Being the grandson of Mexican immigrants and having grown up in the border city of Brownsville, Texas, Ambassador Garza has a special sensibility to how Mexico views the world and the United States in particular.

Some U.S. financial experts have expressed frustration with Mexico's failure to pass reforms in such areas as energy, labor and taxes. Some Mexican business leaders have also warned about trade disadvantages with China and other Asian nations. But Ambassador Garza says Mexicans are recognizing the need for these reforms and will act soon.

"I think here in Mexico, increasingly, there is not only an awareness that that needs to happen, there is an urgency attached to that happening, largely because each day they are bombarded with their own headlines, what the analysts are saying, what their statistics are saying, who are they losing market share to, where China is in the whole equation," he explained. "They do not need the U.S. ambassador to know these things. They see those in their papers daily."

Ambassador Garza also expresses optimism for the future of U.S.-Mexico relations, which he says will be improved by increased contact. He says there will be more U.S. influence on Mexico through investment and trade and more Mexican influence north of the border as a result of an increase in the population of people of Mexican descent.