President Barack Obama gave his blessing to a new security arrangement with Mexican leader Enrique Peña Nieto, in which Mexico will make reducing violence a priority over hunting drug cartel kingpins in the war against organized crime. The two presidents said they also want to step up trade and business ties that have been overshadowed by the battle against drug trafficking.
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 said at a joint press conference with Peña Nieto on Thursday.
At the start of a two-day visit to Mexico, Obama sought to draw attention to the emerging might of Latin America's No.2 economy, even as worries about containing drug-trafficking and related violence remained an inescapable subtext.
The two leaders pledged to begin holding cabinet level meetings focused on boosting business between the two countries and to expand educational changes. The first high-level meeting is set for the fall.
The US president pledged support for Peña Nieto's new policy of restricting contacts with the United States on drugs and drug-related violence to a single point, Mexico's Ministry of the Interior. He acknowledged that the United States can play a role with its own domestic policies.
We look forward to continuing our good cooperation in any way, he said. I also reaffirmed our determination in the United States to meet our responsibilities to reduce the demand for illegal drugs and to combat the southbound flow of illegal guns and cash.
Mexico's new single-door policy would be an abrupt change from the wide latitude the US government enjoyed in working with Mexican officials across agencies under Peña Nieto's predecessor, Felipe Calderon.
Peña Nieto plans to shift the weight of combating organized crime from the military onto a new militarized police force, but has made few concrete changes so far, instead seeking to focus public attention on the economy rather than violence.
More than 70,000 people are estimated to have been killed in drug violence in Mexico since 2007, and gang-style murders continue to provide lurid headlines.
Under this new strategy, what we are trying to do is put in order, institutionalize the security cooperation we have today with the United States, and establish clear and singular channels to help us be more efficient and achieve better results, Peña Nieto said in Spanish.
The leaders pledged to conclude a trade agreement with Asia-Pacific nations, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, by the end of the year. By highlighting Mexico's progress in moving up the economic ladder, Obama is also emphasizing that his own domestic goal of reforming US immigration laws will not promote an exodus of Mexicans into the United States.
Part of what we discussed is the importance of getting it done, precisely because we do so much business between our two countries he said, referring to immigration reform that has drawn bipartisan support in Washington. If we're going to get that done, now's the time to do it.
The two presidents also discussed a much publicized energy agreement that would remove obstacles to expanding deepwater drilling for oil in the Gulf of Mexico. They said in a joint statement that they looked forward to implementation of the deal.