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Bush talks about immigration reform with Mexican president

MERIDA, Mexico—President Bush told his Mexican counterpart on Tuesday that he hoped Congress would reach a consensus on broad immigration reforms by August, but warned that finding a compromise would be difficult, U.S. officials said.

White House spokesman Tony Snow, one of nine U.S. officials who accompanied Bush in talks with Mexican President Felipe Calderon, said Bush acknowledged that his own party is deeply divided on the issue but told Calderon he was "optimistic" that a solution would be found.

"The fact is the meetings they had were very productive and the chemistry was good," Snow said.

The private talks at a plantation on the Yucatan peninsula marked Bush's first meeting with Calderon since the Mexican leader was inaugurated in December and came on the next to the last day of the president's weeklong Latin America tour that also took him to Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia and Guatemala.

Bush returns to Washington on Wednesday after a joint news conference with Calderon.

In remarks before the meetings began, Calderon called for more understanding from the United States on immigration matters and urged the U.S. to do more to cut the demand for illegal drugs in the United States.

A Mexican official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said Calderon intended the speech to put Bush on notice that he intended to have a more business-like relationship with the United States than his predecessor, Vicente Fox, who was frequently criticized for being to close to Bush.

But the official agreed that the meetings had gone well and that Bush had been receptive to Calderon's call for aid programs that would help develop jobs in Mexico's southern states, from which many immigrants come.

Unlike at previous stops, anti-American demonstrations were muted Tuesday, with some protests in Mexico City, 850 miles away, and a handful of demonstrators near the Uxmal Mayan archaeological site, which Bush visited.

Security was tight, and police blocked off streets near the hotels where Bush and Calderon were staying. School was canceled for the day.

U.S. officials said they were not concerned by what appeared to be veiled criticism of the United States for not doing more to combat drug trafficking.

"My government has done what corresponds to it: retake the streets and public plazas from the claws of delinquency and drugs . . . but to have success in this fight we need collaboration and the active participation of our neighbor," Calderon said. If the United States doesn't do more to curb demand for narcotics, "it will be very difficult to reduce the supply in ours."

"Calderon is seeking greater cooperation and coordination among our various law enforcement agencies," said National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe. "President Bush supports this while noting that this issue is a shared responsibility that requires both countries to partner."

In the months since Calderon took office, he's made the drug war a top and visible priority, sending uniformed Mexican soldiers into drug-trafficking centers to back up beleaguered police. He surprised U.S. officials in January by extraditing two of Mexico's most notorious drug traffickers to the United States. The extraditions of Gulf Cartel leader Osiel Cardenas and Sinaloa cartel leader Hector "El Guero (Whitey)" Palma, while welcome, were unexpected.

Some analysts thought that Calderon's decision to emphasize drug-trafficking issues may have been an effort to show his independence from the United States.

"The theme he has chosen and put on the table is drug trafficking," said Jose Antonio Crespo, a political analyst in Mexico City. The issue allows Calderon to tout his government's actions while criticizing the United States, Crespo said.

In his welcoming remarks, Calderon also called on the U.S. to help Mexico develop its economy, saying that as long as the United States is rich in capital while Mexico is rich in cheap labor, immigration cannot be stopped "by decree."

"We may truly stop migration by building a kilometer of highway in Michoacan or Zacatecas rather than 10 kilometers of walls on the border," Calderon said, referring to two Mexican states that provide tens of thousands of migrants to the United States.

Bush repeated in Merida what he'd said Monday in Guatemala: He'll dedicate the final years of his presidency to overhauling immigration law. He appeared to criticize Republicans who oppose his initiative.

"I remind my fellow citizens that family values don't stop at the Rio Grande River," Bush said, referring to the body of water that separates Mexico and the United States. He described Mexican immigrants in the United States as "decent, hardworking, honorable citizens of Mexico who want to make a living for their families."

Throughout his tour of Latin America, Bush has maintained that U.S. foreign policy hasn't forgotten the region. In Mexico on Tuesday, he appeared to acknowledge that free-trade policies haven't trickled down sufficiently to benefit the poor.

He also appeared to support Mexico's call for more aid to its impoverished south, which hasn't received the full benefits of the North American Free Trade Agreement, enacted in 1994.

"The people of the United States understand that when we help our neighbor build a better life for themselves, we advance peace and prosperity for all of us," Bush said.

The two leaders then began a meeting that lasted about two hours in the stately Hacienda Temozon, a restored and renovated farm originally built in 1655 that's now a luxury hotel.

Sitting across from one another at a long table in a room that included an old carriage and antique leather harness, Bush and Calderon were joined at the table by nine aides each.

Among the American officials present were Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez.

Mexicans present included Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa, Government Minister Francisco Ramirez Acuna, Economy Minister Eduardo Sojo, Treasury Minister Agustin Cortens and Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora.

After lunch with Calderon and his wife, Margarita Zavala, Bush and first lady Laura Bush spent the afternoon touring Uxmal before dining with Calderon and Zavala.


(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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