GWEN IFILL: Jorge Castaneda was named foreign minister last fall upon the inauguration of Mexico's new President Vicente Fox. He's been in Washington today meeting with Secretary of State Colin Powell, and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in advance of President Bush's trip to Mexico next month. Mr. Minister, welcome.
JORGE CASTANEDA: Thank you.
GWEN IFILL: After your meetings with Colin Powell and Ms. Rice today, what was at the top of jour agenda, the US/Mexico agenda?
JORGE CASTANEDA: I think we went in both meetings with many of the issues that the two Presidents may talk about, may raise in their meeting in Guanajuato, Mexico, President Fox's hometown on February 16. Those issues range from the strictly bilateral border, drug enforcement, immigration, trade issues that we have pending, things such as sugar, telecommunications, trucking, to the non strictly bilateral issues of a regional nature -- Latin America and country specific issues that are not strictly of a bilateral nature between the two countries. The difference... we have different views on which of the issues are the most important the way it should be but I think there was broad agreement on the importance of the meeting and of President Bush's decision to visit Mexico in his first trip abroad as President. It's a powerful signal being sent to Mexico and Latin America.
GWEN IFILL: Before we talk about all of those specific issues, let's talk a little bit about your evolution - the evolution of your thinking about the US-Mexico relationship. You once co-authored a book that was called - about the US and Mexico - that was called Limits to Friendship. You opposed NAFTA. Given your past views and what your position is now on the Mexican government, what do you think the relationship between Mexico and United States should be?
JORGE CASTANEDA: Well, in the first place, Gwen, what's important, of course, President Fox's views are on the relationship and on the bilateral relations between the two countries -- not so much what I have may or may not have written or said in the past. Secondly I'm in very much in favor to get in accordance with what the President thinks of developing the relationship of going beyond NAFTA -- deepening NAFTA, broadening NAFTA, and going beyond it in many of the ways President Fox has already described when he came to the United States in August and in many interviews and speeches he has made. There's a long term vision he has 25, 30 years from now - but much more importantly right now there are a series of specific points that we think a great deal more cooperation and a much more closer relationship between the two countries can be developed and we're going to be working on that in the upcoming meeting.
GWEN IFILL: When you talk about his long-term -- one of the things he has spoken about on this program is the notion of having a more porous border between the United States and Mexico. Was that something that came up today in any kind of specific way? Is that something you anticipate President Bush and President Fox talking about?
JORGE CASTANEDA: Well, not on specifics -- that didn't come up today. I think President Fox has been very clear when he came here to the NewsHour and other interviews -- he has been very clear that he has a vision of a North American community 25 or30 years from now of the way he would like that community to look and this is something he wants to be able to be speaking about with President Bush and perhaps also with Prime Minister Chretien of Canada over the next few years. But on specifics we talked about the border, about water, about specific immigration issues, about too many Mexicans dying on the border for different reasons, and we have to do something about that. Talk about energy important right now given the California energy crisis and what we can do to help. It's not very much because we don't have much excess capacity but we're trying to do what we can. So I think we had a very productive discussion both with Dr. Rice and with Secretary Powell on both specifics and the longer-term vision.
GWEN IFILL: You talked about border violence. It seemed listening to your press conference today that - General Powell and yourself - that the same question was asked to you both, and there was a slightly different answer about who's responsible for the kind of border violence which you say has been essentially playing along the border.
JORGE CASTANEDA: Well, I wouldn't speak for Secretary Powell but as far as we're concerned - the Mexican government is concerned -- clearly there are different forms of causes of the deaths and injuries that Mexicans are suffering on the border; some have to do with some of the ranchers in Arizona and we think something should be done about that. The situation has improved, by the way, on that front. We also think too many Mexicans are being forced to cross areas which are terribly inhospitable, terribly difficult to cross, and they die of exposure and dehydration.
GWEN IFILL: Because of US policy along the border?
JORGE CASTANEDA: A series of issues -- US policy -- the Mexican situation -- where they come from in Mexico, which way they're being pushed in the United States through different INS measures. We think that these are things that have to be talked about, have to be negotiated, have to be addressed, and we're not necessarily going to agree on each one of them, but we think an enormous amount of progress can be made on these issues, and I certainly found a very, very receptive attitude on the broader issues on the part of both Secretary Powell and Dr. Rice.
GWEN IFILL: How interconnected is the notion of Mexico's continued prosperity -- the United States' economic slowdown -- the immigration issues - how many ... for instance the issues that Senator Phil Gramm brought up when he went to Mexico about allowing guest worker status for some immigrants who come to the United States to work, how much are these things tied together?
JORGE CASTANEDA: Well, they're very much tied together, Gwen. Already there are a great number of Mexicans who come to the United States on a temporary visa -- H2A's and H2B's - around 55,000 last year -- they come -- they work for six months - they go home mostly under very acceptable conditions not always - not everywhere. Obviously, the immigration issue is tied to the state of the US economy and also the Mexican economy and obviously the state of our economy in Mexico is very much linked to the way the US economy fares. We're hoping in Mexico that we're very well prepared for the slowdown in the US economy -- that we're taking the measures the President has been clear on the things we need do in Mexico in order to prepare us for any possible consequences of a slowdown. We hope the slowdown will be a short once and a moderate one, and we're confident that Mexico can return very quickly to the very high rates of economic growth, which it has enjoyed in the past few years, and which are the long-term solution to the immigration question. What we need do in the two countries is perhaps to build a bridge, an immigration bridge to the future that is to the time in Mexico 2010 perhaps when our demographics and economic growth as President Fox has planned it will be sufficient to actually make the immigration issue I wouldn't say irrelevant but of a lesser importance on the bilateral agenda.
GWEN IFILL: Another issue drug trafficking when President Fox came to office as have president's before him, he would lead a campaign against corruption. There will be a few setbacks on that front -- one drug kingpin basically paid his way out of a prison - another person walked up and shot the governor of Chihuahua, who had spoken out against this. How do you begin to get a hold of that in a way of building this long-term economic prosperity you're talking about?
JORGE CASTANEDA: The first point is that President Fox has a legitimacy and a reputation and prestige and credit in Mexico, which I think for a series of reasons linked to the type of political system we had in Mexico before his predecessors did not have. When he says he's going to attack corruption, people in Mexico believe him because he's precisely a product of the opposition to the old corrupt system that made corruption so rampant in Mexico. Now getting to work on it takes time but we're beginning, we're beginning actively in cleaning up the police force creating a national police force, national police secretariat or ministry using the previous national police and making it larger, making it pay better, doubling salaries in the police force, cleaning it up using different methods some with the United States and some with European countries to clean it up - and finding cooperation -- and going after the drug cartel kingpins much more actively. What's happening in Mexico today -- the fellow who fled from jail - of course he fled from a prison that's been around for years, not one that we built in a month and a half, what's happening in Mexico today unfortunately is the response of many of the kingpins to the very severe damages they're taking in what is now already a two-month campaign that the President has been waging. We don't underestimate the possibilities of their response but this is a decision that's going to go very far.
GWEN IFILL: How about Cuba? You and General Powell - I guess I should call him Secretary Powell -- both decided to agree o disagree on that subject today; you believed in fact that Mexico should continue its relationship with Cuba; but you disagreed with the United States' decision to continue its embargo.
JORGE CASTANEDA: Well, this is a disagreement that is essentially as old as the Cuban Revolution. Mexico has had this stance 42 years and it's not going to change it now. But what I think will be different --and this is one of the issues we talked about -- is that now as President Fox has said about Mexico's situation on democracy and human rights we no longer have anything to be ashamed about anymore -- and consequently we're going to be very active all over the world the United Nations, OAS, and elsewhere in promoting and defending democracy and human rights; we're going to do it without name calling - without finger pointing but we're going to be doing in all area and all regions and regarding all countries and I think you'll see a change in our Cuba policy in that respect.
GWEN IFILL: You will say to Fidel Castro that you disprove of his human rights policies.
JORGE CASTANEDA: Well, not only we will say it to him; we will say it wherever it has to be said about his situation if it warrants it or about that in other countries in Latin America or elsewhere - we're going to be very explicit and very clear on the fact that we believe that human rights have to be respected everywhere and at all times and that there is no justification for not doing so. Remember we come from the opposition -- we had to go through a lot of this ourselves perhaps in different degrees --and it's our principles which are too important to be negotiated.
GWEN IFILL: Jorge Castaneda, thank you very much for joining us.
JORGE CASTANEDA: Thank you, Gwen.