Summit ends with rifts unresolved


CANCUN, Mexico -- The United States and its North American neighbors sought without success yesterday to ease the diplomatic irritants that continue to trouble their cross-border relations, with immigration atop the list.

President Bush and his counterparts, Mexican President Vicente Fox and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, ended a day and a half of meetings with an agreement to improve economic cooperation.

But Bush and Harper made it clear that they had been unable to narrow differences over whether all visitors to the United States, including those from Canada, will be required to produce passports or similar government-issued tamper-resistant documents before entering the country.

And, despite Bush's support for a program that would permit workers from Mexico to enter the United States for a specific period of time to fill jobs rejected by Americans, his comments, and those of Fox, demonstrated the emotional power attached to the issue as the Senate continues to debate proposals to overhaul U.S. immigration laws.

At this point, Bush's issues over immigration are more with Congress - particularly fellow Republicans - than with Fox.

Bush refused to say whether he would veto legislation if it does not include allowances for guest workers, saying he remains optimistic that the legislation will include such provisions.

The president renewed his call for "comprehensive" legislation, which means a broader measure than the one passed by the House, which made no provision for guest workers and would treat as felons those in the United States illegally and the humanitarian workers who help them.

Bush said that allowing foreigners to work in the United States for specified periods would pull the rug out from under smugglers and document-forgers who help undocumented visitors cross the border and enter the work force.

Bush also argued that a nation cannot be certain of prosperity if it does not have secure borders.

Fox said that whatever legislation emerges, the issues can be resolved only if immigrants are treated with respect and if moral considerations are brought to bear in establishing a legal structure governing immigration.

The leaders' comments at a news conference that concluded their meetings in Cancun, a resort city on the Yucatan Peninsula that is still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Wilma last summer, illustrated how difficult diplomatic relations can be even between countries that usually have close ties.

On economic matters, the leaders praised their year-old Security and Prosperity Partnership, which is intended to establish a framework encompassing a number of government programs, and agreed to establish a council to seek ways to help North America compete against other trading communities and countries.

Pointing to competition from China and India, Bush said, "We face prosperity challenges from abroad like never before."

James Gerstenzang writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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