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BUSH TACKLES TOUGH ISSUES IN MEXICO

President Bush arrived today in Mexico on his first presidential trip outside U.S. borders, with plans to soothe friction over immigration, trade and drugs and build a partnership based on "cooperation, creativity and mutual respect."

Bush was met by Mexican President Vicente Fox as soon as Air Force One touched down at Deguanajuato Airport. Bush descended the plane's stairs alone and walked up to Fox with open arms. The two exchanged a handshake and hug.

Fox squired Bush along a row of Mexican dignitaries, including Fox's young son, Rodrigo. Bush reciprocated, introducing Fox to Secretary of State Colin Powell and U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey Davidow.

After a brief ceremony, the two leaders headed to the nearby farm town of San Cristobal, about 210 miles northwest of Mexico City, to discuss ways to improve ties between the nations of the Western Hemisphere and plans for a Summit of the Americas scheduled in Canada in April.

Bush arrived eager to embark on a new hemispheric agenda for the neighboring nations.

"Some look south and see problems. Not me," Bush said Thursday, previewing his Latin American policy at the State Department. "I look south and see opportunities and potential."

Likewise, Fox told reporters in Mexico that he viewed the meeting as the "most valuable opportunity" yet to ensure a positive, productive U.S.-Mexico relationship.

"We are going to speak about each one of the problems," he said. "But, above all, we are going to speak about each one of the opportunities."

For Bush, his first foreign trip will be very much like a friendly visit to a neighboring ranch.

Bush, who is spending the weekend later on his own ranch in central Texas, was to take a quick tour of Fox's spread before opening their discussions, breaking for lunch, then discussing some more issues. In between, they planned a joint news conference.

In an informal, daylong visit, the two leaders were to delve into a handful of nettlesome issues long on the U.S.-Mexico agenda -- trade, immigration and illegal drugs -- and matters of increasing interest -- energy, telecommunications and transportation.

With growing energy problems at home, symbolized by California's struggle this winter to find enough power to keep its lights on, Bush views Mexico as the source of new supplies of natural gas and potentially millions of megawatts of electricity now in short supply on this side of the border.

At the same time, Fox has indicated he may be more open than his predecessors to easing restrictions on foreign companies getting involved in building new power plants, pipelines and developing Mexico's substantial, but still largely untapped, natural gas reserves.

Just as important for both countries, though, is the symbolism and personal nature of the visit.

It will be the fourth meeting of the two leaders since their days as governors.

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