- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 21, 2002

On the eve of his trip to Mexico, Peru and El Salvador, President Bush promised initiatives to ease the plight of would-be illegal immigrants, saying, "There are people in our neighborhood who hurt."
He embarks on the trip not quite ready, however, to resume drug-surveillance flights over Peru or seek a base of U.S. counterterrorism operations near Peru's border with Colombia, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said yesterday.
Mr. Bush leaves today on a four-day trip that begins with a stop at the U.S.-Mexican border at El Paso, Texas. From there, he continues on to Monterrey, Mexico, for two days of meetings related to a U.N. conference on aid to developing countries.
Cuba's Fidel Castro will be at the summit; but Miss Rice said firmly that Mr. Bush has no plans to cross paths with the communist dictator.
In advance of the economic deliberations with his international counterparts, Mr. Bush met Tuesday and yesterday with Latin American journalists at the White House and underscored his plan to make more than $5 billion in new foreign aid contingent on recipient nations instituting corruption-fighting economic and political reforms.
"I want to do it in a way that rewards countries which battle corruption, which honor education, which focus on health care, so that there [are] good habits developed," Mr. Bush said yesterday.
Under the new foreign-aid initiative announced last week, Mr. Bush would offer developing nations about $1.7 billion the first year, about $3.3 billion in the second year and the full $5 billion in the third and subsequent years. The money would come on top of current U.S. aid levels and would be awarded largely as grants rather than loans.
Foreign aid to corrupt governments only helps "an elite group of leaders," not needy citizens, Mr. Bush said.
As evidence of his administration's commitment to its southern neighbors, aides said Mr. Bush will announce in Mexico minor new initiatives aimed at creating jobs in the poorest areas of Mexico that send so many undocumented immigrants across the border in search of a better life.
The idea is to create "economic circumstances in Mexico that allow them to [stay] home," Miss Rice said.
The president had hoped to carry with him on the trip a freshly minted law that included an amnesty provision to allow hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens to stay in the country.
But he has not been able to push through the Senate a House-passed bill he wants to extend the deadline for those immigrants to apply for residency without leaving the United States.
Mr. Bush's state visit to Lima, Peru, on Saturday will mark the first time a sitting U.S. president has visited that Andean democracy.
Despite hopes widely expressed by U.S. and Peruvian officials in advance of the trip, Mr. Bush does not have a decision to announce to President Alejandro Toledo on the resumption of drug-interdiction flights, Miss Rice said.
The flights were suspended last April after a Peruvian air force jet, working in coordination with a CIA surveillance plane, shot down a missionary plane, killing an American woman and her 7-month-old daughter.
Late yesterday, the White House issued a statement in the name of Press Secretary Ari Fleischer that expressed regret over a tragedy that "should never have happened," said the United States is prepared to compensate the victims' families, and promised tighter safety precautions before any surveillance program is restarted.
Asked about reports in the Peruvian press that Mr. Bush planned to ask Mr. Toledo about establishing a U.S. counterterrorism operation near Peru's border with Colombia, Miss Rice said such talk is "premature."
Before returning to Washington late Sunday, Mr. Bush will stop in El Salvador's capital, San Salvador, for talks with President Francisco Flores that will wrap in the seven other Central American presidents over a working lunch.

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