Friendship between presidents thaws some of the ice in Mexico-US relations

By , Latin America correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

The Reagan adminstration appears to be off to a good start in building a new relationship with Mexico. How deep this trend runs may not be clear for some time. There have been many disappointments in the past. But it is evident that this week's talks between Presidents Ronald Reagan and Jose Lopez Portillo have been extremely friendly.

Moreover, Mr. Lopez Portillo has thrown Mexican support behind a US initiative for a broadly based hemisphere policy aimed at the economic and social development of the Caribbean Basin.

There is also some hint that Mexico's stance on Central America, including support for the leftist guerrillas in El Salvador, may not be quite so different from that of the United States as had been widely believed. Certainly, the warmth of the Presidents' exchanges has provided an opportunity for greater mutual understanding on this sensitive topic.

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On the Caribbean, the Mexican leader agreed that his nation could serve as the "vital communicator" between the US and those island nations. The Reagan administration believes that both Mexican and Venezuelan help in this communication is essential and that these two wealthy oil nations can play a role in assisting the economic aspects of the evolving Caribbean program.

Venezuelan interest has already been assured following recent visits to Washington by top Venezuelan officials. Now, with President Lopez Portillo's interest, the Reagan administration's Caribbean strategy seems to be off and running.

President Lopez Portillo has repeatedly said he believes President reagan is someone with whom he can deal as an equal -- and President Reagan's pre-inaugural trip to Ciudad Juarez in January to confer with the Mexican leader helped build the sense of trust the President Lopez Portillo feels.

This week's meeting, which took place mainly at Camp David, is cementing that trust.

Since Mexico has traditionally been suspicious of its larger and more powerful northern neighbor, its support of the US Caribbean initiative is especially significant. Senior US officials, commenting on the Caribbean proposal as it is evolving in the Mexico-US talks, said:

"It's fair to conclude, on the basis of what President Lopez Portillo himself said, that Mexico is indeed interested in participating in such a plan, subject obviously to working out the details."

They could also add that tha plan will be realized only if the sense of trust between the two nations continues -- a big if, given the oft-troubled history of US-Mexican relations.

There have been sharp differences recently between the two nations on policies toward Cuba and Central America. Mexico has openly supported revolutionary movements in El Salvador and Nicaragua, while Washington has either opposed these movements outright or been suspicious of them.

In fact some of Mexico's support for these movements stems from the Mexican government's need to play up to domestic leftist groups within the country. Moreover, underneath it all, there is deep Mexican concern that a victory of leftist Salvadoran revolutionaries, for example, could lead to problems for Mexico since it would enhance the position of Guatemalan leftists who, in turn, have contact with Mexican leftists. It is not overlooked by the Lopez Portillo government that many of Mexico's important oil fields are close to the Guatemalan border.

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