WASHINGTON (AFP) — US President George W. Bush and Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom met Monday and discussed trade, cooperation to fight illegal drugs and efforts to modify US immigration policies.
"We discussed bilateral relations between Guatemala and the United States, which are very strong. We're friends. We treat each other with respect," Bush told his guest during a brief public appearance in the Oval Office.
The two leaders said they had discussed the issue of granting temporary protected status (TPS) to Guatemalan citizens, a step that can give immigrants temporary work permits in the United States.
"We brought up TPS with the president. We will be awaiting a response on that," Colom, whose country depends heavily on remittances from Guatemalans living in the United States, said through an interpreter.
"I assured him that I will consider his request, and I assured him that I believe comprehensive immigration reform is in our nation's best interest," said Bush, whose efforts at overhauling US immigration polices have stalled.
The US president touted US aid to Guatemala, as well as growing trade under the Central American Free Trade Agreement, praised Colom for tax and judicial reforms, and highlighted the need to jointly battle drug trafficking.
"We talked about security and the need for the region -- Mexico, the United States, and the countries of Central America -- to fight drug trafficking," said Bush.
"I told the president that we are working hard to reduce demand for drugs here in America. And at the same time, we want to work in conjunction with strong leaders to make sure these drug traffickers don't get a stronghold," he said.
"And that's why it's very important for Congress to fund the Merida project," Bush said, referring to a proposal to step up counter-narcotics cooperation.
"We are doing everything necessary to eliminate drug trafficking and drug traffickers from our territory," said Colom, who thanked Bush for providing four helicopters to battle the drug trade.
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