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Jackson to Mexican Prez: Regret 'Harmful' Remarks

Mexican President Vicente Fox (search) and the Rev. Jesse Jackson (search) agreed Wednesday to work together to unite blacks and Hispanics in the United States after Fox said Mexicans were working U.S. jobs that not even blacks would take.

In a news conference following their meeting, Jackson said Fox had expressed regret for any offense caused by Friday's comment, which Jackson had earlier described as "at best, insensitive."

Fox "now realizes the harmful effects of it," Jackson said. "He seeks to correct it by reaching out."

Jackson said the statement, which angered the U.S. black community, was a chance for minority groups in the United States to begin working together to fight for better treatment and wages.

"It was offensive and inaccurate, but it was a diversion from the bigger struggle of workers rights," he said.

Foreign Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez (search), who appeared at the news conference on behalf of Fox, said the meeting had turned the dispute into a chance to ease the sometimes tense relations between blacks and Hispanics in the United States.

"We made clear that this government is a government that has fought for human rights," he said.

Fox didn't appear at the news conference because he had to leave for a trip to northern Mexico.

Jackson had called on Fox to issue a public apology, and Fox said Monday during a phone conversation with Jackson that he was sorry for "any hurt feelings caused by my statements," according to a statement sent out by Mexico's Foreign Relations Department.

Late Tuesday, Assistant Foreign Secretary Patricia Olamendi echoed that sentiment, saying: "If anyone felt offended by the statement, I offer apologies on behalf of my government."

But in a continuing sign of confusion within Fox's Cabinet on the issue, Fox spokesman Ruben Aguilar said Wednesday that Olamendi was speaking on behalf of herself -- not the government. Aguilar has insisted Fox's comments were misinterpreted.

Derbez also said Olamendi's comments were her own personal opinion, but he praised and thanked her for being a leader in the fight against discrimination.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher on Monday called Fox's remark "very insensitive and inappropriate."

The next day, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Fox "made a public statement regretting his comments, and I think he's addressed the matter."

Jackson criticized President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for not personally criticizing Fox's comments.

"I would expect some official expression from our government," he said. "So far, the president and our secretary of state have not done that."

The dispute was the latest row between Mexico and the United States, and reflected Mexicans' frustration with the failure of the U.S. government to approve a migration accord touted by Bush.

Many Mexicans did not see Fox's remark about blacks as offensive. Blackface comedy, while demeaning to many Americans, is still considered funny here, and many people are given nicknames based on skin color.

While Mexico has a few, isolated black communities, the population is dominated by descendants of Mexico's Spanish colonizers and its native Indians, who themselves face widespread discrimination from lighter-skinned Mexicans with more European features.