President Bush, seeking to allay Mexican worries about "the evil vise of U.S. protectionism," is promising to fight any congressional efforts to raise trade barriers at that country's expense.

Bush cautioned U.S. and Mexican business leaders Tuesday that protectionist sentiments may spread with the downturn in the U.S. economy."As the gigantic U.S. economy slows down - it may slow down even more - it concerns me that some in our country and some in our Congress might turn inward to what you properly label as a protectionist mode," Bush said.

But protectionist measures will not become "a major problem," Bush said before returning to Washington Tuesday from a two-day trip to Mexico. "This president will continue to veto protectionist legislation.

"I think most Americans realize that if we are going to export, we better not be protectionist," Bush said. "You can't have it both ways. We shouldn't want to have it both ways."

Bush was focusing Wednesday on the United Nations debate set for Thursday on a U.S.-backed resolution to authorize military force against Iraq unless it pulls out of Kuwait by Jan. 15.

He was meeting with Secretary of State James A. Baker III for a briefing on Baker's talks with U.N. Security Council members who will vote on the resolution.

Bush's main reason for his visit to Monterrey, Mexico, was to discuss with President Carlos Salinas de Gortari the prospects for a free-trade agreement between the two countries. Bush has asked Congress for the green light to begin negotiations.

"I don't think as we go forward on a free trade agreement it's going to get caught up in the evil vise of U.S. protectionism," Bush said Monday before Salinas hosted the president and his wife, Barbara, at a state luncheon.

In a joint statement, the two presidents expressed "shared concern about the cases of violence on both sides of the border." The issue is a sensitive one in Mexico. Concerns have been expressed about violence in the United States against Mexican immigrants. The presidents directed their aides to develop recommendations on stopping such incidents.

They also agreed to develop a plan to deal with environmental pollution along the border, including hazardous wastes produced by Mexican industry.