December 15, 1998 -- Washington, D.C.

It is my profound pleasure to be here this morning with so many colleagues and friends from both sides of our common border as we commence the second meeting this year of the High Level Contact Group.

Opportunities, such as this one, for open and direct discussion between officials at the highest levels of our governments are always welcome -- particularly when they bring together the broad range of law enforcement entities dedicated to our common struggle against drug trafficking and our common commitment to demand reduction. These meetings indeed are vital to productive collaboration and the most successful implementation possible of our mutual strategic goals.

In July of this year, Attorney General Madrazo and I signed a letter to our Presidents in which we rearticulated and reaffirmed our recognition of the vital importance of consultation, understanding, and mutual respect to the future of our bilateral law enforcement relationship.

And as the chief law enforcement officials in each of our governments, we agreed that communication and collaboration on our plans and initiatives to put an end to narcotics trafficking and other transborder and international organized criminal activity must be more than a goal -- it must be a practical, functional, and respected reality. And it is through meetings such as this one, and through my frequent conversations with Attorney General Madrazo, that the reality of cooperation is being achieved.

There are undoubtedly still those in the public who believe that differences between Mexico and the United States -- differences in cultures, traditions, and historic precedents -- will forever bar the forming of a meaningful and productive bilateral relationship.

There are undoubtedly still those in both our countries who believe that the variations between our procedures and legal systems pose insurmountable obstacles to full cooperation.

They believe the challenges we face are simply too difficult, and potentially divisive, to permit a bilateral cohesion of spirit and effort.

And there are certainly those in the criminal community on both sides of the border who have been trying, with some success in the past, to use our differences against us.

But I think the doubters, the cynics, and the criminals are simply wrong -- because they have no real understanding of the vibrancy and viability of the fundamental bond between Mexico and the United States.

But I believe, and I know my colleagues here today share this belief, that the challenges we face only make us stronger--by tantalizing our mutual creativity and fortifying our resolve not to be outwitted or outmaneuvered by the craftiness and ingenuity of the criminal community.

Whatever differences exist between our systems and our procedures should not be viewed as stumbling blocks to cooperation -- but as building blocks -- formed from our diverse experiences, our sovereign personalities, and the strongest aspects of our national characters and capabilities -- to create, sustain, and solidify our unique partnership of will and action.

It is incumbent upon us, here today to dispel doubts about the legitimacy and depth of our commitments to one another and to the fight against crime.

We do ourselves and the public a disservice, I think, when we do not share and communicate the full scope of our dealings and our endeavors.

This forum provides us with a fine opportunity to discuss, explain, and improve our relationship -- and I look forward to our consultations and conversations over the next two days with great anticipation.