President Obama condemns violence, supports trade during Mexico trip

President Obama speaks with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, center, and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper after a news conference in Toluca, Mexico.
(Yuri Cortez / AFP/Getty Images)

TOLUCA, Mexico -- President Obama acknowledged Wednesday the hand of Russian President Vladimir Putin in two of the day’s most violent hot spots -- Ukraine and Syria -- but said the conflicts should not be viewed as a “Cold War chessboard.”

Speaking in a brief news conference at the conclusion of a daylong summit of North America’s three leaders, Obama said that although Russia supported the Ukrainian and Syrian governments, the populations had very different “hopes and aspirations.”

“I hope Russia would be on board with those values,” Obama said. He rejected a reporter’s characterization that the conflicts have become a competition between the world’s two superpowers.


Obama also condemned the violence in Venezuela, where protests against the autocratic government of President Nicolas Maduro have turned deadly.

He urged Maduro to “instead of making up false accusations” focus on addressing Venezuelans’ grievances. Venezuela expelled three U.S. diplomats, accusing them of fomenting a coup against the government.

Obama spent the day with his counterparts, President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in the city of Toluca, capital of the state of Mexico just west of Mexico City. Peña Nieto was governor of the state, Mexico’s most populous and one of its most violent, until he ran for president in 2012.

There were scattered demonstrations, mostly from Mexicans who oppose their government’s decision to open its energy industry to foreign investment. But reinforced security squads kept most protesters at bay.

Obama reiterated his reservations about the Keystone pipeline that would go from Canada through the United States and that Harper supports.

“How Keystone impacts greenhouse emissions will affect our decision and has to affect all of our decisions,” Obama said. “We are seeing weather patterns” change that could hurt the economy and population patterns.


“We only have one planet,” he said

The three leaders advocated strongly for the success of the Trans-Pacific Partnership as a way to build on the North American Free Trade Agreement signed 20 years ago but still suffering from omissions and continued trade barriers.

Congress has refused to grant Obama the freer negotiating powers that would enable him to more easily reach agreement with the 11 other countries involved in the TPP. But he rejected the notion that he would fail.

“We’ll get this passed if it’s a good agreement,” he said.

Peña Nieto announced a list of measures aimed at easing border access and making the region more “competitive,” including a trusted-traveler program, improved transportation infrastructure and a larger exchange of students. But the list was short on specifics.

He also announced the creation of a three-nation working group to study the monarch butterfly, which migrates annually from Canada to Mexico but whose existence is at risk because of lost habitat and feeding grounds.