Saturday, March 12, 2005

Rice Warns of Terrorists Entering U.S. via Mexico

- Knight Ridder News Service

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday that al Qaeda terrorists may be trying to sneak into the United States through Mexico and Canada and promised a ''robust'' effort to strengthen border security.

''There's no secret that al Qaeda will try to get into this country and into other countries by any means that they possibly can,'' Rice told reporters. ``That's how they managed to do it before, and they will do everything that they can to cross borders.''

The top U.S. diplomat met with Mexican President Vicente Fox and Foreign Affairs Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez in high-level talks that focused heavily on border security, immigration and improving economic ties between the United States and Mexico.

$10 MILLION GRANT

Rice announced a $10 million grant to help nurture development of small business in Mexico, particularly those involving women, and joined Mexican officials in resolving a lingering water dispute between Mexico and South Texas farmers. Mexico agreed to repay most -- but not all -- of Rio Grande water owed to Texas under a 1944 treaty.

The daylong trip was Rice's first visit to Mexico since become secretary of state five weeks ago.

In testimony before Congress last month, Admiral James Loy, who at the time was deputy secretary of Homeland Security, said intelligence strongly suggested that ''al Qaeda has considered using the southwest border to infiltrate the United States,'' possibly with the help of criminal gangs.

Estimates of immigrants crossing the Mexican border each year into the U.S. range from hundreds of thousands to millions. Increasingly they transit Mexico from other countries, and often elude outnumbered border patrolmen.

Rice said that border security will be a top priority of new Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff and will be high on the agenda of a summit of President Bush, Fox and Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin March 23 at Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas.

Mexican officials have been testy about recent U.S. administration remarks about security problems in Mexico.

Attorney General Rafael Macedo de la Concha said Thursday in Madrid that there were no terrorists in Mexico.

''Mexico considers that terrorism must be confronted head-on, but never to the detriment of violating the rights of citizens,'' he said.

Rice, conducting her first one-on-one meeting with the Mexican president, met with Fox at Los Pinos, the equivalent of Mexico's White House, and then held talks with Derbez. Afterward, she and the foreign affairs secretary had a working lunch with academics and opinion leaders. A handful of protesters outside the foreign ministry brandished anti-U.S. placards denouncing U.S. involvement in Iraq.

MIGRANT POLICY

Addressing a top priority for the Fox administration, Rice reiterated Bush's commitment to revamping U.S. immigration policy to deal with millions of Mexican immigrants believed to be living in the United States illegally, but stressed that the administration wants to make sure ``it's done right.''

Bush is proposing a temporary guest worker program that would enable qualified immigrants, including those now in the country illegally, to stay in the United States for up to six years in jobs that Americans don't want.
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