Obama, Calderon Tensions Ease After Pledge to Help Drug Fight

Mexican President Felipe Calderon praised U.S. President Barack Obama yesterday after he pledged more help in the fight against drug traffickers, signaling an easing of tensions between the two countries.

Obama is offering “renewed cooperation” and doing more than any previous U.S. president to help Mexico, Calderon said at an event in Washington. The comments followed Obama’s commitment at a joint press conference to do more to prosecute gun-runners bringing weapons into Mexico.

Yesterday’s bilateral White House meeting may help reduce friction that was building between the two governments, said Andrew Selee, director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. Mexico has complained that the U.S. has been doing too little to slow the demand for illegal drugs or stop arms trafficking as drug-related violence and killings soared in Mexico, he said.

“Calderon’s tone has been one of frustration for the past few weeks,” Selee said in a telephone interview. “The meeting helped the leaders to reconnect on a common strategy.”

The two leaders said they agreed on a plan to resolve a longstanding dispute over allowing Mexican trucks in the U.S., and Obama promised that the U.S. will be a “full partner” with Mexico in the battle against drug cartels. He also pledged that deliveries of equipment to help Mexico combat the drug trade will be accelerated.

Obama said the U.S. “accepts our share of responsibility” for the violence between drug gangs that claimed the lives of 15,000 Mexicans last year.

“We’ve stepped up enforcement,” Obama said. “We’re putting more and more resources into this.”

‘More Must Be Done’

Calderon still urged more action by the U.S. on weapons and drug use.

“We have found renewed cooperation to face this problem in the Obama administration,” he said at a separate event after his meeting with Obama. “But more must be done.”

As an example, he said, he wants to find ways of “sealing ports of entry” to secure the borders.

In a Feb. 23 interview with the newspaper El Universal, Calderon called U.S. cooperation “notoriously insufficient.” He also said that the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Carlos Pascual, had hurt bilateral relations through his criticism, revealed in cables published by WikiLeaks, that various Mexican government security entities suffered from a lack of coordination.

“Their ignorance distorts what is going on in Mexico,” Calderon said in the interview, referring to U.S. officials. “It affects and irritates our officials.”

Agent Killed

Mexico’s violence claimed the life of a U.S. customs agent and resulted in injury to another on Feb. 15 when the two were attacked by gunmen linked to organized crime.

Calderon said the agent’s alleged killer has been detained, and Obama said the U.S. intends to seek extradition of the suspect to face trial in the U.S.

“We expect the full weight of the law to be brought against this perpetrator,” Obama said.

To spur economic growth, both leaders said yesterday that they will work to lower trade barriers to increase the cross-border flow of goods. They also announced an agreement to allow Mexican trucks broader access to the U.S. in return for a reduction of tariffs on U.S. goods.

“We finally have found a clear path to resolve the dispute over trucking between our two countries,” Obama said. “We’re working to expand the trade that creates jobs for our peoples.”

Part of Nafta

The trucking agreement, which needs congressional approval, would end a dispute over the passage of Mexican trucks from factories south of the border to destination points in the U.S. that dates to the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1995. While the U.S. is bound by the North American Free Trade Agreement to allow Mexican trucks through, opponents in Congress have blocked compliance, citing safety concerns.

The agreement would lead to Mexico dropping tariffs on $2.4 billion worth of U.S. pork, cheese, corn and fruits, the White House said in a statement. Half the tariffs will be lifted as soon as the deal is signed, and the remainder once the first Mexican truck is allowed to enter the U.S.

In 2007, the U.S. initiated a pilot program that let as many as 100 Mexican trucking companies haul cargo into the U.S. It was canceled in 2009 under a provision in spending legislation passed by Congress and signed into law. Mexico responded by placing retaliatory tariffs on U.S. imports.

Along with the trucking agreement, U.S. congressional approval would be required for increasing aid to Mexico or restricting the cross-border weapons trade.

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