NOVEMBER 30, 04:42 EST

Fox Is pro-American But No Pushover

Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - Vicente Fox has projected a pro-American image at times but, as he prepares to be sworn in as Mexico's president on Friday, he won't be a pushover for Washington.

Fox has criticized the ``walls'' that keep would-be Mexicans migrants away from U.S. soil and he has no use for the annual State Department evaluation of Mexico's counternarcotics performance.

And, even though he heads a right-of-center party, he has appointed a left-of-center foreign minister, Jorge Castaneda.

On the plus side for U.S. officials, Fox is expected to push for increased Mexican-American integration, envisioning a time when the border will be no more than a line on a map.

He also is given high marks here for his promise to root out corruption and to improve public services in Mexico.

Fox is widely admired here for having toppled the political establishment that has run Mexico since 1929, becoming the first opposition challenger ever to win Mexico's presidency.

The former top Coca-Cola official in Mexico met this summer with both Vice President Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush after winning election. He had planned a trip to Washington last week to meet with the U.S. president-elect, but canceled the visit since there was none.

Fox bitterly opposes the U.S. practice of having border patrol agents keep would-be Mexican migrants out of the United States, and he envisions the day when people and goods flow freely across the border.

Both Gore and Bush received the proposal with polite skepticism during Fox's August visit, saying U.S. immigration laws must be enforced.

Fox has said he recognizes his proposal cannot be implemented immediately, but he advocates a program that would allow perhaps 250,000 Mexicans to enter the United States as temporary guest workers each year. He has promised to take measures to deter illegal border crossings from Mexico.

American hostility to immigration from Mexico puzzles Fox, who notes that the United States is a nation of immigrants.

``By building up walls, by putting up armies, by dedicating billions of dollars like every border state is doing to avoid migration, is not the way to go,'' Fox has said.

Over the long term, Fox believes sound economic policies in Mexico will narrow the income gap between the two countries and eliminate the undocumented alien problem altogether. About 340,000 Mexicans migrate to the United States each year, most of them illegally.

Fox is the standard-bearer of the conservative National Action Party, and he surprised some observers with his appointment of Castaneda, an early opponent of the North American Free Trade Agreement who has since reversed that position.

Castaneda has shown an ability to be adaptable over the years, said Mexico expert George Grayson, of the College of William and Mary.

``He certainly has to recognize that he can achieve more through quiet diplomacy and using back channels than by finger-pointing and shouting,'' Grayson said.

Castaneda, 47, recently told the Los Angeles Times: ``I am going to implement Fox's foreign policy. That's my job, not to invent mine.''

He added that there will generally be continuity in Mexico's foreign policy, which in recent years has been far friendlier to the United States, once considered an enemy.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who will attend Fox's inauguration, expects to meet on Friday with both Fox and Castaneda. She also hopes to confer with the presidents of Argentina, Brazil and Chile while in Mexico, but she will not meet Cuban President Fidel Castro nor his closest ally in the hemisphere, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.