WASHINGTON – President Bush says he has ``a determined focus to make the border work'' with Mexico, envisioning a boundary that allows the free, back-and-forth flow of people and goods but not would-be terrorists or drug smugglers.
The president was leaving Thursday for a four-day swing through Mexico, El Salvador and Peru.
A car bomb outside the U.S. Embassy in Lima, Peru, killed at least nine people and injured dozens of others late Wednesday, officials said. The White House had no comment early Thursday about the incident.
The first stop on Bush's trip was to be Monterrey, Mexico, for a two-day U.N. development conference, where Bush was to promote a new aid plan with billions of dollars he plans to distribute to poor countries that demonstrate an intent to fight corruption.
Before crossing into Mexico, Bush was visiting El Paso, Texas, to see for himself U.S. operations at the border.
In interviews Wednesday, Bush said he has reached no decision whether to consolidate federal agencies that handle border duties, as has been recommended. He stressed, however, that the United States wants to tighten processes so that the border, ``la frontera,'' cannot be violated by drug traffickers or terrorists.
``Here's what I want to achieve: a border that recognizes how much traffic there is, normal traffic,'' Bush told Spanish-language network Univision. He defined ``normal traffic'' as the large numbers of people who have crossed the border every day, to and from their jobs, ``for years on years,'' as well as trucks and other vehicles hauling goods or providing services.
``We've got to work with our Mexican friends to make sure the border has got the best infrastructure, the best technology, the best intelligence-sharing, to make sure we stop ... the smugglers and the terrorists,'' Bush said. ``And we can do both.''
Bush admitted he was going into his meetings with Mexican President Vicente Fox with few new details on the subject. ``There really isn't much new, except for a determined focus to make the border work. And our cooperation with the Fox government has been very good,'' he told another Spanish-language network, Telemundo.
Bush did plan, however, to announce minor new initiatives aimed at creating jobs in the poorest areas of Mexico. ``He believes, like President Fox, that some of the most ambitious people who come to the United States are best going to be served when it's possible to have economic circumstances in Mexico that allow them to be home,'' Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, said Wednesday.
Under the new foreign aid initiative disclosed last week, Bush would offer poor countries about $1.7 billion the first year, about $3.3 billion in the second year and $5 billion in the third and subsequent years. If approved by Congress, the money would come on top of current U.S. aid levels and would be rewarded to nations that are fighting corruption and implementing political reforms.
Opposition to Bush's plan awaited him in Monterrey. During a forum of nongovernmental organizations last week, officials denounced the proposal and called for an alternative ``that puts people in the center of development.''
Cuban President Fidel Castro will be at the summit, but Rice said firmly that Bush has no plans to cross paths with the communist leader.
Bush is making the trip without a law that would make it easier for undocumented workers in the United States to gain legal status. The president's legislation also would require tamper-resistant immigration identification documents, a tougher screening process and stricter monitoring of foreign students and exchange visitors.
The proposal has passed the House but has not been taken up in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Bush said Tuesday he is confident the Senate eventually will act.
The president also has not decided whether to resume drug surveillance flights over Peru or seek a base of U.S. counterterrorism operations near Peru's border with Colombia, Rice said.
But Bush will make history as the first sitting U.S. president to visit Peru.
Despite hopes widely expressed by U.S. and Peruvian officials in advance of the trip, Bush has nothing to tell President Alejandro Toledo on resumption of the drug-interdiction flights, Rice said.
The flights were suspended after a Peruvian air force jet, working in coordination with a CIA surveillance plane, shot down a missionary plane on April 20, 2001, killing Veronica Bowers, 35, and her 7-month-old daughter Charity and injuring Bowers' husband and son and the plane's pilot.
The White House offered condolences Wednesday night to victims of the incident and their families, and a senior official said the United States will provide ``appropriate compensation.''
Donald Davis, an attorney representing the Pennsylvania-based missionary group Association of Baptists for World Evangelism, said the family and the missionary group had requested $35 million compensation and settled for a smaller sum that he said was satisfactory. Peru is replacing the group's Cessna aircraft and paid pilot Kevin Donaldson's medical expenses.
Before returning to Washington late Sunday, Bush will stop in El Salvador's capital, San Salvador, for talks with President Francisco Flores and a working lunch that will also include the seven other Central American presidents.