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Bush aims to speed border crossings for law-abiding

President Bush unveiled a new security plan for the U.S.-Mexico border Thursday that he said would allow goods and people to move smoothly but "weed out those who we don't want in our country: the terrorists, the coyotes, the smugglers, those who prey on innocent life."

Stopping in the Texas border city of El Paso before beginning a four-day visit to Latin America, Bush toured a U.S. Customs facility at the Bridge of the Americas, which crosses the Rio Grande into Mexico, for a demonstration of several high-technology screening devices used to detect hidden compartments in trucks. Although the devices have been in use for several years at a number of crossings, several dozen more will be installed as part of a 22-point "smart border" plan Bush will initial in Monterrey today with Mexican President Vicente Fox.

The agreement also includes increased intelligence cooperation between law enforcement agencies and "smart passes" for those who cross frequently. Mexico and Canada have complained that border security, increased because of the Sept. 11 attacks, is causing long delays that impede commerce and free passage of citizens of all three countries.

The administration negotiated a similar agreement with Canada in December, including electronic pass cards, customs clearance at each other's seaports and electronically sealed containers that will allow trucked goods to be inspected at their points of origin in both countries.

After his arrival in Monterrey on Thursday night, Bush and Fox met with Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien to discuss trade and border initiatives. Canada is the largest U.S. trading partner, accounting for $700-billion in 2000, and Mexico is the second-largest, with $247-billion.

Chretien is among more than 50 world leaders in Monterrey for the U.N.-sponsored International Conference on Financing for Development that began Monday. In a speech to the conference this morning, Bush plans to flesh out an initiative announced in Washington last week to increase U.S. development aid by $5-billion over the next three years.

The new money is to go into what the administration has called a "Millennium Challenge Account," with grants targeted toward countries that have established democratic governments, free markets and health and education programs. Bush's announcement appeared to defuse much of the antagonism that was expected to greet him at the Monterrey conference.

Bush, who will travel over the weekend to Peru and El Salvador, plans talks this afternoon with Fox, the third such talks since Bush took office.

The border program is likely to be the only substantive agreement to come out of the meetings with Fox. But Bush praised the Mexican president Thursday as a close partner and insisted that the United States remains interested in the closest of relations with Mexico.

"Somebody asked me the other day because of the war on terror is your interest in Mexico diminished?" Bush told several thousand supporters who greeted Air Force One at the El Paso airport. "I said, not at all. A strong and prosperous Mexico is good for America."

"Mexico is an incredibly important part of the futuro de los Estados Unidos," said Bush, who peppered his remarks with Spanish. "And the border, la frontera, is a very important part of our relationship."