MEXICO CITY — Acknowledging uncertainty ahead, President Barack Obama said Thursday the U.S. will cooperate with Mexico in fighting drug-trafficking and organized crime in any way Mexico’s government deems appropriate. Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto emphasized that the security relationship must be expanded to focus on trade and commerce.
Appearing alongside Pena Nieto at a news conference, Obama recommitted the U.S. to fighting the demand for illegal drugs in his country and the flow of illegal guns across the border to Mexico, even as the southern neighbor 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 U.S. security agencies have had in Mexico to help fight drug-trafficking and organized crime. 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.
Pena Nieto, speaking at the news conference in Spanish, downplayed the notion that the new arrangement would mean less close cooperation with the United States. “There is no clash between these two goals,” he said.
He said Obama told him the U.S. will “cooperate on the basis of mutual respect” to promote an efficient security strategy.
The two leaders met Thursday on the first day of Obama’s three-day trip to Mexico and Costa Rica, his first visit to Latin America since winning re-election. Obama was met at the steps of his plane by an honor guard and a bugler before heading to the National Palace for his meetings with the Mexican leader.
Seeking to put a new spin on a long-standing partnership, Obama is promoting jobs and trade — not drug wars or border security — as the driving force behind the U.S.-Mexico relationship. But security concerns nonetheless shadowed the visit.
“With the new Mexican administration coming into office, it certainly stands to reason that President Pena Nieto would want to take a look at the nature of our cooperation,” said Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser. “So we’re currently working with the Mexicans to evaluate the means by which we cooperate, the means by which we provide assistance.”