MEXICO CITY -- President Obama and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto assured each other in a private meeting Thursday that they are committed to reducing violence and fighting organized crime. But the conversations are only just beginning between the two over how to work together on shared security interests.
Both sides are concerned about drug and weapons trafficking across the border, but some U.S. officials worry that the new Mexican government isn’t as interested in coordinating with American law enforcement as was the last president.
Peña Nieto’s administration has announced plans to restrict U.S. involvement in its security efforts, for example, causing some U.S. officials to worry that a period of close cooperation in the drug war is drawing to a close.
In a joint news conference after their meeting, Peña Nieto argued that there is “no clash” between his administration’s goals of fighting organized crime and reducing violence.
“These are two goals that fall within the framework of one same strategy,” Peña Nieto said. “And President Obama’s administration has expressed his will, as we know, to cooperate on the basis of mutual respect, to be more efficient in our security strategies that we are implementing in Mexico.”
Obama promised to try to stem U.S. demand for illegal drugs and the illegal flow of guns and cash that he said “help to fuel the violence.”
“I agreed to continue our close cooperation on security, even as the nature of that cooperation will evolve,” Obama said. “As I told the president, 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 aides would like to avoid too much public discussion of security, emphasizing instead the economic part of the president’s mission.
In a speech to students Friday, Obama is likely to talk up the importance of cultural and educational exchange programs, new opportunities for trade and the government reforms that Peña Nieto has already instituted.
Still, after Obama’s afternoon arrival in the capital city, the two presidents wasted no time getting down to business. Obama and his delegation went directly to the National Palace for a bilateral session with Peña Nieto.
During their talk, Obama sought to assure Peña Nieto that the prospects are good for reform of U.S. immigration policy, saying that “now’s the time for it to happen.”
Peña Nieto called immigration policy “a domestic affair for the U.S.” and said little more. Support for any particular immigration proposal by Mexican officials isn’t likely to help Obama win passage.
The two presidents are scheduled to have a working dinner this evening.