Mexico, US eye cooperation in meetings sparked by cartel threat

Meetings come after Trump announces plans to label Mexican drug cartels 'terrorist organisations'.

    A military police officer standing near the bullet-riddled town hall building of Villa Union days after a gun battle between police and hitmen in the state of Coahuila, Mexico [File: Daniel Becerril/Reuters]
    A military police officer standing near the bullet-riddled town hall building of Villa Union days after a gun battle between police and hitmen in the state of Coahuila, Mexico [File: Daniel Becerril/Reuters]

    Mexico's government has said its meetings with US Attorney General William Barr on Thursday will focus on bilateral cooperation, as they seek to address the threat of Mexican drug cartels which the Trump administration wants to label "terrorist" groups. 

    Barr's meetings in Mexico were arranged after US President Donald Trump said last week he would designate the drug gangs as "terrorist organisations" in response to a series of bloody security breaches triggered by cartel gunmen.

    Tensions over the cartels intensified last month after suspected cartel hitmen ambushed three women and six children with dual Mexican and US nationality in northern Mexico.

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    Barr is due to sit down with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and other senior officials from around midday.

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    Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador speaking during the anniversary of his first year in office at the Zocalo Square in Mexico City, Mexico [Edgard Garrido/Reuters]

    Lopez Obrador told a regular news conference the bilateral talks would focus on cooperation, and that during the meetings a document will be reviewed that will serve as a point of reference. He did not provide further details.

    The US State Department said on Wednesday it was working with the Mexican government to identify the "appropriate tools" to help it tackle the threat posed by cartels.

    Designating groups as terrorist organisations aims to disrupt the finances of suspected members and their supporters via US sanctions like asset freezes and travel bans.

    William Barr
    US Attorney General William Barr speaking at an event at the Justice Department in Washington, DC [Loren Elliott/Reuters]

    Although it would not directly give the US authority for military operations in Mexico, many Mexicans are nervous Trump could use it as a pretext for unilateral intervention.

    Lopez Obrador has attempted to pursue a less confrontational approach to the gangs and has rejected any intervention. He has held out the prospect of cooperation with the US but says his government has the wherewithal to tackle the problem.

    SOURCE: Reuters news agency