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For Mex­ico’s for­mer am­bas­sador to the U.S., the hot-and-cold re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two coun­tries reminds him of the Dick­ens novel “A Tale of Two Cities.”

The daily diplo­macy be­tween the United States and Mex­ico “is the best of times and the worst of times,” Ar­turo Sarukhan told an au­di­ence at the Univer­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia this week.

He cited the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment as an ex­am­ple of the best in the re­la­tion­ship.

Ac­knowl­edg­ing that crit­ics and pro­po­nents of the 1994 pact de­bate NAFTA’s im­pact, he said they must agree that it has “done ad­mirably well” as a free-trade agree­ment, ac­cord­ing to a re­port from the univer­sity’s Daily Tro­jan news­pa­per. NAFTA has re­sulted in U.S.-Mex­i­can trade of nearly $500 bil­lion a year, up from about $800 mil­lion in 1993, ac­cord­ing to U.S. gov­ern­ment fig­ures.

Mr. Sarukhan called il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion and cross-bor­der drug smug­gling and gang vi­o­lence the worst scar on bi­lat­eral ties.

As am­bas­sador in Wash­ing­ton from Jan­uary 2007 to Jan­uary 2013, he said his big­gest chal­lenge was “win­ning both the hearts of Mex­i­cans and Amer­i­cans.”

“The big­gest chal­lenge was to con­vince Mex­i­cans and Amer­i­cans that there are no two so­ci­eties more rel­e­vant to each other’s well-be­ing than Mex­ico and Amer­ica,” he said.

Mr. Sarukhan noted that be­fore he ar­rived in Wash­ing­ton, he got ad­vice from a Texan friend about one of an am­bas­sador’s most im­por­tant du­ties — giv­ing speeches.

“Pub­lic speak­ing is like a Texas longhorn,” his friend said. “There’s a point here, a point there and a lot of bull in the mid­dle.”

“Diplo­macy is a bal­anc­ing act, like wear­ing a top hat,” said Matthew Barzun, U.S. am­bas­sador to Bri­tain be­fore pre­sent­ing his diplo­matic cre­den­tials to Queen El­iz­a­beth II.

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