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Obama talks security, economy in Mexico visit

Drug policy and immigration reform also on the agenda in talks with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto.

Last Modified: 03 May 2013 09:16
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US president Barack Obama has promised cooperation in fighting drug-trafficking and organised crime in Mexico following his meeting with his Mexican counterpart, Enrique Pena Nieto.

Appearing alongside his Mexican counterpart at a news conference on Thursday, Obama recommitted the US to fighting the demand for illegal drugs in the US and the flow of illegal guns across the border, even as its southern neighbour rethinks how much access it gives to American security agencies.

"I agreed to continue our close cooperation on security, even as the nature of that cooperation will evolve," Obama said.

"It is obviously up to the Mexican people to determine their security structures and how it engages with other nations, including the United States."

Obama's remarks come as Pena Nieto, in a shift from his predecessor, has moved to end the widespread access that US security agencies have had in Mexico.

The White House has been cautious in its public response to the changes, with the president and his advisers saying they need to hear directly from the Mexican leader before making a judgment.

Obama's visit is part of a three-day trip to Mexico and Costa Rica, his first to Latin America since winning re-election last year.

Pena Nieto said his government's new security strategy emphasizes reducing violence. But he downplayed the notion that it would mean a diminished effort to fight organised crime, saying "there is no clash between these two goals."

This so-called "single-door" policy would be an abrupt change from the wide latitude the US government previously enjoyed under Pena Nieto's predecessor, Felipe Calderon.

"From their perspective, it's the effort to have better control over all the aspects of security policy and make it more fluid," said Maureen Meyer, a Mexico specialist with the Washington Office on Latin America, a US non-governmental organisation.

The change has raised concern about Mexico's commitment to combating drug trafficking and drug-related violence.

I agreed to continue our close cooperation on security, even as the nature of that cooperation will evolve.

- Barack Obama
US President

While the Mexican government has said that killings linked to organised crime fell 14 percent in the first four months of Pena Nieto's presidency, more than 70,000 people are estimated to have been killed in drug violence in Mexico since 2007.

Economic boost

Al Jazeera's Adam Raney, reporting from Mexico City, said Obama and Pena Nieto also discussed how to strengthen economic, trade and educational cooperation between the two countries.

Already the economic relationship between the two countries is robust, with Mexico accounting for $500bn in US trade in 2011 and ranking as the second-largest export market for US goods.

A stronger Mexican economy would result in even more trade and job growth on both sides of the border, Obama said.

Both Obama and Pena Nieto have said they want the visit to focus on economic issues rather than security.

Pena Nieto is eager to underscore Mexico's recent run of solid economic growth, fuelled in part by its increasing attractiveness as a manufacturing hub.

Human Rights Watch, the US-based watchdog, sent a letter to Obama ahead of his visit urging him to review his public security approach with Mexico, criticising his administration for offering "uncritical support" for Calderon's policies and citing a "dramatic increase" in rights abuses.

"The new [Mexican] government wants to change the narrative," said former US ambassador to Mexico Jeffrey Davidow. "It doesn't want the headlines to be about murders and decapitations."

The Mexican president has launched an ambitious reform agenda, aiming to overhaul the tax system and energy sector, among other areas, in a bid to boost economic growth.

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Source:
Al Jazeera And Agencies
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