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 Home > News & Policies > November 2004

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 21, 2004

Background Briefing on Meeting with President Fox of Mexico
Hyatt Regency Santiago
Santiago, Chile

10:45 A.M. (Local)

MR. McCORMACK: Good morning, early risers. Hello. We have a background briefing with a senior administration official who is here to talk a little bit about the President's meeting with President Fox this morning. So I'll turn it over to him.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Good morning. President Bush met with President Fox this morning for about a half an hour, from about 7:55 a.m. to 8:25 a.m. And they had a good conversation. As you all know, the two Presidents know each other well, and have a kind of easy relationship. And today's discussion really focused on several areas. The first is kind of economic growth and development, especially along the border, with a focus on Mexico's economic growth over the past year, economic -- Mexico has had pretty strong growth, of over 4 percent, and it's had a strong impact along the border region. The maquiladora industries are actually growing at about 10 percent, and employment along the frontier is growing at about 12 percent.

And this is -- President Fox is very interested in highlighting this issue because the Mexicans in the larger relationship and in the larger discussion on migration have taken upon themselves to make economic growth part of the larger migration discussion, the purpose being that with economic growth in Mexico and job creation in Mexico, there's less pressure on migrants to move to the United States.

And President Fox, in his discussions with President Bush, was exploring ways in which the United States and Mexico, and the United States, Mexico and Canada, can work within NAFTA to improve North American competitiveness and actually extend Mexico's economic growth kind of deeper into Mexico, and create more jobs deeper into Mexico and into those areas where many migrants are leaving to move to the United States.

Aside from talking about the economic growth issues, they did talk a fair bit about migration, obviously with the President highlighting his temporary worker program proposal and the way in which he raised it in the elections and how he plans to move forward with it in the Congress. And they also had an opportunity to speak more broadly about border security and the big strides that the United States and Mexico have made so far, and how they plan to continue to work border security issues.

And then they talked broadly about hemispheric issues, and in particular, the Organization of American States and the effort by the Organization of American States to choose a successor to the Secretary General Rodriguez, who resigned recently.

That's kind of a broad outline of what was discussed, and I'm happy to take any questions you might have.

Q Could you elaborate on anything, any assurances that the President may have provided the President of Mexico about the situation in Congress affecting the temporary worker bill? Did he -- did he make clear how high a priority that is for him, and whether he's going to put some real muscle, spend some capital trying to get that bill through?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, you'll recall that when Secretary Powell was in Mexico for the binational commission meeting a week or two ago, Secretary Powell indicated that the temporary worker program was a high priority for the United States. And President Bush underscored that with President Fox, and indicated that, you know, we've already begun consultations on the Hill in this regard.

From the President's point of view, this is an issue that he raised in a speech at the White House. It's an issue that he talked about during the campaign. And it's an issue that he's committed to. The underlying theme is willing workers, willing employers. And it's all about creating an environment in which people who are contributing economically to the United States can regularize their status, always with the intention of returning to their home countries. And the President made very clear to President Fox that the temporary worker program, that one of the basic principles of the program is that it is not an amnesty program and that it really is about allowing people, you know, to hook up with employers in the United States, but always with the idea that they'd be returning to their countries eventually.

Q But was there any talk of specific dates? I mean, this thing has been stuck for the last four years. I mean, did the President commit to try to get it through the next Congress, to try to get legislation proposed this coming year? It's all been kind of vague until now.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, the temporary worker program has not been vague. You're talking more broadly about immigration issues, but the President's temporary worker program has been quite precise. And, actually, he -- they have begun consultations up on the Hill and this is going to be, you know, part of the President's legislative agenda for this coming session of the Congress.

Q President Fox said he wanted to come to Washington to work on an agreement that seemed to have several elements to it. Do you know what he's talking about or what those elements are?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Effectively, it would be a follow on to the meeting we had today and it would be focused on looking more broadly at the migration question, looking at how you improve competitiveness in North America, and how you improve security in North America. And, again, although the context in which he was speaking was bilateral, when we discuss these things there is always a trilateral component to it because of the larger NAFTA agreement and because of our own vision of a larger North American community.

So the purpose of such a meeting would be to follow up what's been happening today and, especially given the kinds of things we're going to be doing in the bilateral relationship and the consultations that will be taking place on the Hill around the temporary worker program, President Fox thought that this would be a good opportunity to come up sometime in the first or second quarter of next year and kind of do some follow up work.

Q Did the two Presidents discuss reports that al Qaeda has considered plans to smuggle nuclear material into the U.S. through Mexico?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They discussed more broadly about border security issues, but not that particular report.

Q Excuse me if you covered this, I came in a little bit late. History has shown that guest worker programs aren't temporary, that when you invite guest workers into your country -- as France and Germany have experienced -- they become established and they do not leave. How do you expect to address that in your policies?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, like so much, the details have to be worked out in the larger discussions with the Congress. But the principle, as laid out by the President, was fairly clearly established that you set time frames for which people are allowed to work within the United States and then you determine legislatively whether those time frames can be rolled. But the idea is that you do not use a temporary workers program as an avenue towards residency or to citizenship. It really is just a temporary workers program.

Q Just wondering when the two Presidents meet if they discussed the political realities that they both face? For example, in the case of President Bush, you have to get this guest worker program passed by the U.S. Congress, and there's some doubt as to whether that would happen. In the case of President Fox, when you talk about creating more jobs in Mexico, almost the entire agenda has been blocked by the Mexican congress, he hasn't been able to get energy reform, fiscal reform, any of that through in the last three years. So when they talk about these things, do they go beyond the, sort of, the pie-in-the-sky things they would like to have and talk about the political realities they both face?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, political realities are ever present. As far as the United States is concerned, this underscores why we've been consulting with Congress on the larger temporary worker program. But there's a lot the Mexicans can do without legislative process, you know, within the context of NAFTA and in other areas. So, certainly, they're both politicians, they both understand the reality that they work in and this is an ever present part of their conversation.

Q How does a weaker dollar affect the economic relationship with Mexico?

MR. McCORMACK: I think we'll defer those questions to the Department of Treasury.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, I'll defer that question. I'm sorry.

Q I ask it because I wonder whether or not there are concerns either on the U.S. side or on the Mexican side that that will inhibit trade -- clearly, for the Mexican --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, it wasn't talked about in the meeting. In fact, the focus that -- of President Fox was that the Mexican economy is, indeed, growing, that employment is growing along the border, and that there is kind of a renewed competitiveness within the larger North American context, especially with companies that are working in both markets.

Q Was there any discussion of -- reconstruction or coming --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Not specifically. This was really -- this meeting was largely focused on bilateral issues and on some hemispheric issues. There was some talk more broadly on the larger war on terror, but it didn't get down into specific issues on Iraq.

Q So President Fox didn't show any more willingness to cooperate with the United States on Iraq reconstruction?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's not a question of showing willingness or not showing willingness; it just wasn't addressed in any significant way.

Q As a Latin American specialist, how does last night's security dust-up, and then today's downgrading of the social dinner into a working dinner -- because of another security disagreement -- play in Latin America?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't think it has much of an impact. I mean, the trip here to Santiago and the events we have in Santiago are all built around strong bilateral relationships we have, and especially here in Chile, a great relationship we have with the Chilean government, and the tremendous respect we have for President Lagos. He's been a strong partner in free trade, he's been a strong partner in the promotion of democracy. The Chileans were one of the first countries to provide troops in Haiti and they've been very helpful in the larger efforts to fight the war on terror, especially within the context of the United Nations. So, in this sense, issues around specific events really don't have an impact.

Q Did the two men discuss Cuba?


Q Did they discuss the Arizona proposition and how it may hurt relations or anything like that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Just in relationship to the broader temporary worker program issue and the political environment that we find ourselves in, and the fact that this is indicative that immigration remains a sensitive political issue, and, therefore, has to be managed with intelligence by both sides.

Q Did the President express an opinion about the Arizona proposition?


Q Does the administration feel any concern that China is trying to develop a sphere of economic and possibly political influence in Latin America that could work at odds with the United States' national interest?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You mean in this particular meeting?

Q No, no. Well, I'm talking about more broadly, without reference to this bilat.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Listen, we've always -- I mean, I'm not a China expert, but I can say that we're always looking for ways to involve China more deeply in the international system. And international trade is an important way of doing that. And China's ability to, through its large market and through its interest and resources, to come into the region and barter and trade is a good thing.

MR. McCORMACK: Thank you.

END 10:57 A.M. (Local)