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President Carlos Salinas de Gortari begins his first official visit to Washington at a time when U.S.-Mexican relations are stronger than they have been in years.

Salinas said he hopes the closer ties will translate into economic gains."Mexican nationalism no longer has to feed on anti-U.S. feelings," said an official close to the president. "Anti-Americanism is no longer a valid issue in the Mexican political debate."

Salinas and his wife, Cecilia, were to travel to Camp David on Sunday as guests of President and Barbara Bush before official visits to Washington and New York. He will receive an honorary degree from Brown University before returning to Mexico on Oct. 6.

Bush and Salinas are perceived in Mexico to have a personal friendship unmatched in the history of relationships between U.S. and Mexican presidents.

"There is a relation of mutual respect that allows cordiality," Salinas said Thursday.

"Bush has a very important characteristic that appeals to Salinas. He is not an ideologue," the official close to Salinas said on condition of anonymity. "Bush has gone out of his way to show special consideration for Salinas."

Mexicans see the invitation to Camp David as a special honor; it will be only the third time a Mexican president has been there.

Ten months into his term, Salinas has become the symbol of a new image for Mexico: a country regaining self-confidence after nearly eight years of economic crisis, a country eager to resume economic growth and assume an international role in commerce and foreign affairs.

The Salinas and Bush administrations worked closely in July to renegotiate a large part of Mexico's $107 billion foreign debt, and the deal was closed after U.S. Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady lobbied commercial bankers in his office.

The Mexicans hope for a respite through debt and interest reductions that will make more money available for Salinas' development projects. He also hopes for improved trade agreements with the United States and more foreign investment.

Salinas, 41, has gained respect here and abroad by his dramatic blows against corruption, including the jailing of previously untouchable labor bosses, and by ordering the arrests of several top drug traffickers.

U.S. officials have said they are very pleased by Salinas' war on drugs even though many agree with Mexican officials, who say the real problem is U.S. demand.

Mexico has seized more than 24 tons of cocaine this year, Salinas said at a news conference Thursday. He said the amount was significant but that "a lot of drugs are getting through."