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U.S. is respectful friend, Clinton assures Mexicans

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After trying to soothe Mexico's government, President Clinton is going directly to the people with assurances that America is a respectful ally that views Mexicans as equal partners. "We have to make this relationship work together," he declared.

The message is a natural follow-up to talks Tuesday with President Ernesto Zedillo. A series of modest agreements on immigration, drugs and trade appeared to defuse rising tensions between the two governments but did not address a widespread perception among Mexicans that America considers them a second-rate neighbor."We're here because we know that we have to make this relationship work together beyond party politics - within our countries and across our borders," Clinton said.

"We share more than a 2,000-mile border," he said at a joint news conference with Zedillo. "We also share a vision of what the border should be in the 21st century - a safe, clean, efficient model of prosperity and cooperation joining our people, not a barrier that divides them."

In an address Wednesday to the public at the National Auditorium, the president was saying it is time to move beyond the friction of drugs and immigration and focus on the benefits of getting along.

"This relationship is about far more than resolving our problems," he told Zedillo. "It's about seizing the real opportunities to make our people more prosperous and secure on the edge of a new century."

He said the North American Free Trade Agreement is a prime example.

The pact "helped to raise our exports to Mexico to an all-time high and helped Mexico to bounce back from a wrenching recession," he said.

Three top administration officials, including Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, made the same pitch to American businessmen Wednesday. Latin American envoy Mack McLarty said the United States must broaden free trade throughout the region.

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ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

The key agreements

Key agreements signed Tuesday by President Clinton and Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo:

- Complete by the end of the year a joint drug-fighting strategy.

- Expand border-crossing points, including a new bridge between Brownsville, Texas, and Matamoros in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas.

- The placement of Border Liaison Mechanism groups, made up of U.S. and Mexican law enforcement and inspection officials, in Presidio, Texas, and Ojinaga, Chihuahua.

- Strengthen efforts to protect the rights of migrants.

- Establish a binational migration study "to help us understand the causes and dynamics of this flow" of immigrants.

- Cooperate on stemming the cross-border flow of illegal firearms and putting together a hemispheric accord outlawing firearms trafficking.

- Better share information to help trace drug-related money laundering.

- Clean up the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexican border by sharing operation and maintenance costs of two sewage treatment plants at San Diego-Tijuana and Laredo-Nuevo Laredo.

- Protect endangered turtles, dolphins and whales, parklands and wildlife refuges.

- Give Florida and Arizona citrus access to Mexican markets.