While a free trade agreement for the region has topped the agenda at the Summit of the Americas, a mending of relations between President Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox has been one of the most important outcomes.
NBC News White House correspondent Norah O’Donnell discusses the renewed relationship between Bush and Fox and its potential impact on domestic politics in the United States and Mexico.
What is the mood at the Summit?
The Mexican President Vicente Fox’s press secretary, Augustin Gutierrez, said the tone of the meeting between Fox and Bush marked a 180-degree turn from the past year. That was when Mexico and the United States faced off over the Iraq war and the American execution of a Mexican national. So there is a decidedly different tone at this meeting. Bush and Fox are trying to repair relations. It was all smiles at yesterday’s press conference where Fox offered a ringing endorsement of Bush’s new plans to overhaul immigration laws.
What are the biggest issues that leaders are discussing?
The top issues at this summit for the 34 world leaders gathered here are: trade, security, and migration. But clearly migration is one of the most important issues for the Latin leaders. The host of the Summit, President Fox, is spotlighting this new immigration deal that Bush is proposing. Fox is viewed as a lame duck here in Mexico. He has very little power with the Congress and he can use this new offer by President Bush to suggest that he does still have some power. Fox may also gain some added support with people here based on the fact that President Bush has invited him to come to the ranch in Crawford, Texas -- which shows that their relations are on the mend.
Has there been a true warming of relations between Bush and Fox?
It’s clear that there has been a thawing of the relationship between Bush & Fox. I interviewed Fox at the presidential residence, Los Pinos, last week. He said that this new immigration proposal by President Bush is an important step forward. However, he also said that there should be changes to the plan. The Mexican president is concerned that there won’t be enough temporary work visas or green cards for Mexicans who want to stay and work legally in the United States. So that is an issue that came up in their bilateral discussions yesterday. So publicly Fox says that this is a great plan, privately he is still pushing for some changes.
Fox said it best when I asked him if this plan is the big enchilada. He said, 'This is part of the enchilada. We still want more enchilada.' They still want a couple of changes to the plan. But overall, Fox is supportive of it. He is happy to show that here at home, to show that he still has some sway and power with the United States.
Is Bush getting flak at the Summit for the timing of the new immigration policy at the start of an election year?
President Bush came here to Monterrey hoping to secure an endorsement from President Fox. Such an endorsement could be a big boost with Hispanic voters at home as he seeks reelection. The president’s political strategists have said that if Bush does not grow his support among Hispanics, he will lose this election. Hispanics are crucial in 2004 and Bush can say that Mexican President Fox supports this plan—so should you. And I’m sure we’ll hear more of that in the coming months.
President Fox, of course, is going to be coming to Texas, to the ranch, and he said he’ll make other stops in the United States. We could see a Mexican president, Fox doing campaign-style events on this particular issue that could help Bush in the upcoming election.