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Fox, Bush promote closer U.S.-Mexican partnership

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox together pressed their vision for a stronger U.S.-Mexican partnership on Thursday, touting the contributions of immigrants and benefits of free trade in both Washington and Toledo, Ohio.

Shortly after Fox addressed a joint meeting of Congress late Thursday morning, the two leaders traveled together to the industrial heartland to tour a Mexican-American community center and speak at the University of Toledo. The pair returned to the White House around 6 p.m.

"I came here ... because I wanted to tell my paisanos in this part of the United States that my friend President Bush and myself will work, not only for your cause but also for the cause of the United States and the cause of Mexico," Fox said.

Both men deemed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) a success, paving the way for more than $250 billion in trade between the United States and Mexico each year.

"NAFTA has created jobs in Mexico. It has created jobs in the United States," said Fox.

U.S. President George W. Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox speak to students in Toledo, Ohio. CNN's John King reports (September 6)

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CNN's Bill Schneider says the Republican Party is counting on a Bush-led breakthrough to narrow the Hispanic vote gap with Democrats (September 6)

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End of a special relationship?  
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The Mexican president noted that his country buys more goods from the United States than France, Italy, Spain and Germany combined and pointed to the 1 percent unemployment rate in Mexican cities along the U.S. border.

In a speech to Congress hours earlier, Fox called for a "new era of friendship and cooperation" to solve mutual challenges such as illegal immigration and drug trafficking.

"I am aware that for many Americans, and for many Mexicans, the idea of trusting their neighbor may seem risky, perhaps even unwise," he said. "But circumstances have changed. We are now bound closely together."

Fox also called on lawmakers to end annual U.S. certification of Mexico's drug-fighting efforts, pushing for "intense cooperation" and trust. Following the speech, Bush backed Fox, saying the certification process sends the "wrong signal."

In most all his appearances, Fox addressed the sometimes thorny issue of immigration. He again called on Congress to grant amnesty to the estimated 3 million Mexican nationals living in the United States illegally, a notion that has drawn strong opposition from some.

"Migration has always rendered more economic benefits to the United States than the cost it entails," said Fox, who has pushed for Washington to award more permanent visas to Mexicans hoping to move north. "Regularization does not mean rewarding those who break the law. Regularization means that we will provide them with the legal means to allow them to continue contributing to this great nation."

While generally supporting these immigration efforts, Bush stopped short of committing fully to Fox's plan to reach an agreement by year's end.

"We will put 100 percent effort into it during the year," Bush said. "I want to accommodate my friend."

Bush and Fox also have established common ground against bills passed by both the Senate and House restricting Mexican trucks traveling on U.S. highways. Bush, standing beside Fox before leaving for Ohio, vowed to veto any bill that contains restrictions.

Fox, a conservative whose election last year ended seven decades of one-party rule by the often anti-American Institutional Revolutionary Party, will leave Washington on Friday after a scheduled morning meeting with House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois.

• The White House
• Presidency of the Republic of Mexico

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