Obama, Calderon Discuss U.S.-Mexico Ties

President Obama met with Mexican President Felipe Calderon in Mexico City today and pledged to work toward strengthening the relationship between the two neighbors.

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

And I'm Robert Siegel. President Barack Obama arrived in Mexico today for a one-day trip. And he pledged to work towards strengthening the relationship between the United States and its southern neighbor. He arrives at a time when Mexico is battling narco-traffickers in a deadly war fueled, in part, by Americans' appetite for drugs. In comments on arrival, Mr. Obama vowed to work with Mexico.

BARACK OBAMA: At a time when the Mexican government has so courageously taken on the drug cartels that have plagued both sides of the borders, it is absolutely critical that the United States joins as a full partner in dealing with this issue both through initiatives like the Merida Initiative, but also on our side of the border in dealing with the flow of guns and cash south.

SIEGEL: The first thing on Mr. Obama's agenda today was talks with President Felipe Calderon. And NPR's Scott Horsley is traveling with the president. And he joins us now. Scott, what are the headlines from today's talks?

SCOTT HORSLEY: Well, Robert, the two presidents talked about a range of issues: cross-border trade, the environment, the economy. But that battle with the narco-traffickers was the most urgent challenge they were discussing. And President Obama talked about a number of steps that the United States can take to assist in Mexico in that battle, from combating the demand for drugs that fuels the narco-traffickers' business, and he said he would urge the U.S. Congress to ratify an old treaty that's designed to crack down on gun smuggling.

This is a treaty that was approved by the Organization of American States a dozen years ago, but never ratified. And it would be an important symbolic gesture for the U.S. because the vast majority of arms that the drug cartels used come from our side of the border.

SIEGEL: Yeah, that flow of guns is obviously a huge concern for the Mexican government. Do you think that the president's push for ratification of the treaty will be enough for them?

HORSLEY: Well, it's - this has really been a sore point. I mean, Mexico has been urging the United States to do more. The Obama administration has taken some concrete steps. They've talked about sending 100 or so ATF agents to the border.

President Obama was asked today about whether he would push for a renewal of the ban on assault weapons. This is something he said he supported during the campaign, but as a sort of a political realist, he has declined to push very aggressively for it. He said today that it would be very difficult to get that assault weapons ban renewed. And so he talked more about enforcing, stronger enforcement of existing gun laws.

There's a real cultural divide, though, because Mexico's own gun laws are very tough. And it's been all too easy for straw buyers on the U.S. side of the border to acquire guns and provide them to the traffickers.

SIEGEL: Scott, this is President Obama's third meeting with President Calderon, have relations between Washington and Mexico improved much since the time of the Bush administration?

HORSLEY: Well, President Calderon described this as the beginning of a new era. I think it's safe to say that the Bush era was not characterized by hostility so much as maybe neglect. And the Obama administration is trying to show that they are actively engaged with Mexico. Not only has Mr. Obama met with the president, but three cabinet secretaries have traveled to the country to have meetings.

Of course President Bush also said early in his administration that he wanted to improve relations with Mexico. And it's going to take more than one summit meeting to really show the United States is serious about that.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Scott Horsley speaking to us from Mexico City. Thank you very much, Scott.

HORSLEY: My pleasure, Robert.

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