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US, Mexico: hope for a new era

You could hardly find a frown or hear an angry words as the Mexican President and the United States President-elect were meeting this week in the Mexican border town of Ciudad Juarez.

But officials of both countries are cautioning against too much enthusiasm for any quick improvement in US- Mexican relations.

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Despite the broad smiles and warm words the two leaders had for each other, the officials warn that the issues currently dividing Mexico and the US are a great deal broader than the Rio Grande, the river separating the two nations.

"It will take some doing to get us together on tradE, energy, fishing, immigration, and all the other issues that divide us," commented a Mexican foreign ministry official after the meeting.

Still, there was a lot of symbolism in the brief meeting Jan. 5 between Mexican President Jose Lopez Portillo and President-elect Ronald Reagan.

They met at midpoint on the Bridge of Friendship spanning the Rio Grande and linking the border cities of El Paso and Juarez. They clapsed hands, smiled amiably, and then walked into Mexico to confer for more than an hour and to lunch. They smiled broadly again and shook hands before Mr. Reagan returned to US soil.

"This has been a meeting of friends," Mr. Lopez Portillo said.

Mr. Reagan agreed and was heard to say "my friend" in referring to the Mexican leader.

Moreover, it is not lost on observers that this session was something of a first. In the past Mexican presidents- elect have frequently traveled to Washington to meet US presidents. This time, the US President-elect went to Mexico to meet the Mexican Prsident.

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In effect what they did in their brief encounter was to set the stage for future meetings. Their expressions of friendship were obviously sincere. This will serve well as the two neighbor nations grapple in the months ahead with the knotty issues dividing them.

Those issues are real and frustrating. They will not be solved quickly nor easily. They are also so closely related that the two nations need to tackle them as a package and perhaps develop a mechanism to handle problems as they arise.

On the trade front, for example, Mexicans want greater access to the US market for their high-quality farm produce (such as tomatoes and strawberries). This desire, however, runs squarely into the needs of US producers who stand to be hurt by the importation of Mexican produce.

But without greater markets for Mexican farm produce, -- so important a factor in cutting unemployment in Mexico -- the flow of undocumented Mexicans into the US could increase beyond present high levels, causing labor, welfare, and other problems for the US.

Even before he can develop a strategy on these issues, President-elect Reagan will have to come to grips with the fishing issue following Mexico's permissible , but unilateral cancellation of all current fishing accords with the US in protest over the Carter administration's delay, as the Mexicans see it, in working out an accord on tuna and squid fishing.

Actually, the Reagan-Lopez Portillo meeting provides not only the opportunity for new beginnings on all these issues, but also for a change of style in Mexican-US relations. Mr. Carter never was able to build a good relationship with Mr. Lopez Portillo. Many commentators suggest that the chemistry between the two was simply not effective.

The Reagan-Lopez Portillo meeting this week suggests that they may well have that chemistry.Only time will tell. But a start has been made.

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