U.S. and Mexico pledge cooperation on drugs

MEXICO CITY (AP) — In a show of harmony after stormy disputes, President Clinton and Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo pledged closer cooperation Tuesday on immigration and drug fighting. “Our histories and destinies are forever joined,” Clinton declared.
Clinton and Zedillo, in a lush garden of the presidential palace, signed a declaration committing their nations for the first time to devise a joint strategy for combatting drugs. In Mexico, drug trafficking is blamed for the murders of more than 200 police and 25 major assassinations.
The leaders also signed an immigration document designed to better manage their 2,000-mile border with new checkpoints and bridges and new efforts “to work together on migrant trafficking, protecting the rights of migrants and removing criminal aliens.”
Clinton said the United States would enforce a new, tougher immigration law but added: “We must balance control with common sense and compassion.”
Modest in scope, the two accords were designed to ease U.S.-Mexican tensions, which had reached their worst point in years. Zedillo welcomed Clinton as “a good friend to Mexico” and said they had stabilized relations so that they are “based on respect, friendship and reciprocal benefits.”
In a gesture of respect to Mexico, which often feels slighted by its giant neighbor, Clinton placed a wreath at one of the country’s most sacred sites, popularly known as the Child Heroes Monument. It honors six young cadets killed in 1847 as the U.S. Army conquered Mexico City.
Earlier, at a welcoming ceremony on a parade lawn, military honor guards on horseback rode past Clinton and Zedillo, flashing their swords in salute. The presidents concluded the ceremony by shaking hands with flag-waving children, who tumbled over a rope line in excitement to reach out to them.
Relations between the United States and Mexico are often rocky but they plummeted this year in the aftermath of tough new U.S. immigration laws and Congress’ failed attempt to decertify Mexico as an ally in the drug war.
Many in Congress were skeptical of Mexico’s intentions after the discovery in February that its anti-drug chief was on the payroll on a major Mexican drug trafficker. Moreover, anger over illegal immigration prompted passage of California’s Proposition 187, which would deny benefits to illegal aliens.
Zedillo repeatedly thanked Clinton for showing respect to Mexico. “It is true that on both sides of our border, there are voices which prefer to turn a deaf ear than to hold an open dialogue,” Zedillo said. “They prefer recrimination rather than constructive cooperation.”
He said that respect “is the basis of a solid friendship, a long-lasting friendship between the Mexicans and the Americans.”
Often ignored during the Cold War, Mexico has moved toward the top of the United States’ economic and national security agenda because of its drug problem and its emergence as America’s third-largest trading partner. To underscore Mexico’s importance, Clinton sent eight Cabinet secretaries and the leader of the U.S. anti-drug crusade to Mexico to work on a range of problems, including trade and the environment.
Mexico was the opening stop on Clinton’s first visit as president to Latin America. He will travel to Costa Rica on Wednesday for a summit with Central American leaders and to Barbados on Friday for a Caribbean summit.
Clinton and Zedillo used the occasion to answer criticism of the North American Free Trade Agreement, passed in 1993 over stiff opposition from organized labor. Since then, U.S.-Mexican trade has increased 60 percent and now totals nearly $150 billion.
“There are some people still who assert in the United States that it has not (worked), but it has,” Clinton declared.