Obama Encourages U.S., Mexico To Focus On Economic Relations

President Barack Obama is in Mexico for talks with President Enrique Pena Nieto and a speech to young people. His trip aims to highlight the strong ties between the neighbors as well as the need for continuing cooperation on security and immigration matters.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene. President Obama says it is time to focus on the strong economic relationship between the United States and Mexico and not get bogged down on more contentious issues like cooperation on the war on the drugs.

Obama made his comments yesterday as he began a two-day visit to Mexico. He flies on to Costa Rica later today. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto warmly greeted President Obama at the doors of the majestic National Palace in Mexico City's historic center. At a joint press conference, Pena Nieto paraphrased a famous speech given 51 years ago by President John F. Kennedy in the same room.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

PRESIDENT ENRIQUE PENA NIETO: (Spanish spoken)

KAHN: Geography has made us neighbors, tradition has made us friends, let no one separate what nature has united, said Pena Nieto. Obama returned the warm sentiments several times during the nearly hour-long press conference, with praised for the new Mexican president.

But the goodwill remarks come on the heels of Mexico announcing restrictions to what had been unprecedented access and cooperation in the fight against drug traffickers. The change in protocol has upset many in U.S. law enforcement circles. Hoping to not let the issue dominate the visit or step on Mexico's sovereign sensitivities, Obama said the U.S. respects the changes.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It is obviously up to the Mexican people to determine their security structures and how they engages with other nations including the United States.

KAHN: Pena Nieto too addressed the issue. He said it was time to change the strategy employed by the former administration. Pena Nieto took office in December vowing to curb violence associated with drug trafficking instead of targeting kingpins. That strategy led to the capture of more than two dozen high ranking cartel leaders, but also unleashed unprecedented violence in the country. More than 60,000 Mexicans have died since 2007, with another 25,000 disappeared.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

NIETO: (Spanish spoken)

KAHN: Pena Nieto said, I insist that our new strategy aims to take the cooperation of the United States and institutionalize it, make it more orderly, and create clear channels so we can be more efficient in achieving our goal, reducing violence.

Also steering clear of a U.S. domestic issue, Pena Nieto declined to comment on immigration reform talks taking place in the U.S. Senate. Pena Nieto and Obama both steered the conversation toward trade between the two countries, which now reaches nearly $500 billion a year.

Several agreements were signed yesterday, dealing with energy, infrastructure and educational exchanges. Obama said now is not the time to get bogged down on border issues; instead focus on legal trade, legal immigration and facilitating commerce.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

OBAMA: When the economy is growing, when people have opportunity, then a lot of our other problems are solved.

KAHN: Outside the National Palace a small crowd made it through the intense police security and dozens of closed streets in hopes of catching a glimpse of President Obama. Aurora Artiaga Azavena said she was glad the presidents were talking about the economy.

AURORA ARTIAGA AZAVENA: (Spanish spoken)

KAHN: She said we really need more jobs here; there aren't any. Artiaga, who is 65 years old, says the youth today graduate with these great degrees but can't find any work. They are stuck driving taxis and buses. Before leaving for Costa Rica today, Obama is scheduled to give a speech about economic opportunities to a crowd of young Mexicans. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City.

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