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Why US ties with Mexico are tepid

Sunday's election in Mexico for a new president could help refocus US attention closer to home.

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Though US-Mexico ties have been in the doldrums since 9/11, the election of a new Mexican president provides an opportunity to re-energize relations.

But such reenergizing could only take place with concentrated attention from the US side, analysts say – something that has been lacking for most of the Bush administration.

"If President Bush were to welcome the new Mexican president [Monday] or Tuesday with a call" for new steps to promote North America's economic growth and integration, "it would be the jolt needed to demonstrate a willingness to start anew," says Robert Pastor, director of the Center for North American Studies at American University in Washington. "But so far, the White House has only shown an interest in keeping the relationship the way it is."

It wasn't supposed to be that way.

Hopes had been high that Mexican President Vicente Fox, a former Coca-Cola executive who broke Mexico's one-party dominance with his election in 2000, could put relations with the United States on a stronger and more productive foundation. Expectations were only boosted when George W. Bush, a governor from a big border state, won the White House.

Then 9/11 happened. And in the lead-up to the war in Iraq, Mexico disappointed the US by adopting its traditional anti-invasion stance. The US reverted to paying little more than lip service to Mexico and the rest of the Latin "backyard."

But now, immigration is back at the top of the American political agenda. Also prominent in discussions are the hemisphere's energy supplies – and the anti-American leaders who in some cases hold leverage with those supplies.

This is why experts insist that, regardless of who ends up winning Sunday's vote – a left-wing populist who seeks a better deal for Mexico in the North American Free Trade Agreement or a conservative pro-business former energy secretary from Mr. Fox's political party – the ball will largely be in the US court to get relations moving again.

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