U.S. Secretary of State Rice talks with Mexican Foreign Minister Derbez
Luis Cortes  /  Reuters
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, right, talks with Mexico's Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez in Mexico City on Thursday.
updated 3/10/2005 7:46:01 PM ET 2005-03-11T00:46:01

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, acknowledging the difficulty of monitoring the nation’s porous southern border, said Thursday the United States would work with Mexico to thwart al-Qaida and other terrorist groups rather than trade accusations.

Rice, on her first visit to Mexico since taking over at the State Department in late January, echoed concerns raised by government officials in congressional testimony last month about the motives of the terrorist network blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks.

“We and the Mexicans had a robust dialogue about border security, and I believe we’re going to continue to have that,” she said. “This is not a matter of pointing fingers. This is a matter of really trying to get the best possible coordination and work that we can so that there’s safety for citizens in both countries, on both sides of the border.”

Al-Qaida said to cross border
Recent intelligence from current investigations, detentions and other sources suggests that al-Qaida has considered using the Southwest border to infiltrate the United States, according to testimony from a top Homeland Security Department official last month before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Rice cited the borders with Mexico and Canada.

“Indeed we have from time to time had reports about al-Qaida trying to use our southern border but also about them trying to use our northern border,” Rice told reporters. “There is no secret that al-Qaida will try to get into this country and into other countries by any means they possibly can.

“That’s how they managed to do it before, and they will do everything that they can to cross the borders,” she said.

Rice made the one-day trip to Mexico to meet with President Vicente Fox and Foreign Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez. Emerging from her meeting with Derbez, Rice said the United States, Canada and Mexico have been cooperating better on border security over the past few years, and the three countries must continue their efforts.

“We are all concerned about terrorists and how they might use our very long and porous borders,” Rice said.

“The terrorists are going to keep trying. They’re going to keep trying on our southern border. They’re going to keep trying on our northern border,” she added.

Water dispute resolved
Rice also announced that the United States and Mexico had settled a decades-old, cross-border water debt.

Mexico will transfer enough water to the United States to cover a debt that Texas has claimed that Mexico has owed under a 1944 treaty. That water-sharing pact requires Mexico to send the United States an average of 350,000 acre-feet of water annually from six Rio Grande tributaries. The United States in return must send Mexico 1.5 million acre feet from the Colorado River.

“I’m delighted that we have been able to reach this understanding,” Rice said.

Later, Rice traveled to a financial center in the city’s historic district to announce a $10 million grant to support the expansion of a financing program that provides Mexican citizens with banking services and small business loans.

Rice said progress has been made in securing the border since Sept. 11, 2001. But she also said the United States is obligated to alert its citizens to concerns.

President Bush’s former national security adviser faced a diplomatic test in her first visit to Mexico. She discussed with Derbez immigration, border issues, free trade and economic growth.

Points of contention
Recently, Mexican politicians have accused the Bush administration of interfering with Mexico’s internal affairs. They have denounced U.S. officials’ comments about human rights abuses, drug trafficking and possible election-related instability.

Prior to Rice’s meeting with Fox, Mexican Attorney General Rafael Macedo de la Concha reiterated his country’s annoyance at recent U.S. government reports critical of Mexico.

Analyses of problems “should always be done from a multilateral perspective,” Macedo said during an anti-terrorism conference in Madrid. “When one country unilaterally evaluates (another), we don’t agree with that. This has caused much irritation in Mexico.”

Outside Derbez’s office, a small group of anti-U.S. protesters hurled tomatoes at a photo of Rice, then unsuccessfully targeted a car with her inside as it pulled away.

Mexico was angered by a recent U.S. travel warning for Americans going to Mexico’s northern border. Yet both Rice and Derbez praised relations in a news conference.

Mexican officials called the atmosphere one of friendship and cooperation. Rice spoke of “a close neighbor and friend” and said the neighbors “shared a partnership of prosperity.”

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