U.S., Mexico In Drug War Talks

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Robert Siegel talks to NPR's Michele Kelemen about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to Mexico today. Her visit comes just two weeks after three Americans associated with the U.S. Consulate in Juarez, Mexico, were murdered by a drug cartel. The meeting will focus on narcotics smuggling and the violence that accompanies it.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton led a high-powered American delegation to Mexico today to talk about the drug war in that country and drug smuggling to this country. The visit comes as cartels wage vicious battles to control the smuggling groups from Mexico into the U.S. Just two weeks ago, three people linked to the U.S. consulate in the border city of Ciudad Juarez were shot dead.

NPR's Michele Kelemen is traveling the secretary of state and joins us now. And, Michele, first of all, tell us about the other senior members of the Obama administration who were on this trip and what their message is.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Well, you know, she flew down here with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. There was the director of national intelligence, Dennis Blair. There were officials from the White House, the Treasury Department and from the Justice Department. Defense Secretary Robert Gates met her here and so did the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen.

And Napolitano spoke to us on the way here. She said, you know, the fact that all these folks came here, she said this is the real deal, that this is the signal that the Obama administration has a high-level attention to Mexico. And as officials told us that, you know, we want Mexico to succeed and the U.S. knows that it has to be part of that solution.

SIEGEL: And they're active on several fronts: diplomatic, political, military. The message being succeed?

KELEMEN: Well, the message being they've got to win this war. The administration officials say that Calderon was right to send in the military to fight the drug cartels but they say that that military's effort's not going to be enough. Secretary Clinton spoke of a new agenda today. She talks about helping Mexico build up its government institutions, you know, the judicial system and police. The U.S. is also promising more intelligence sharing.

One of the mantras also is this idea of shared responsibility, and the Mexicans offered quite a stark reminder of what that means outside the meeting room. There's this display of dozens of weapons that were apparently trafficked to Mexico from the United States.

SIEGEL: Now, Michele, the killings of three individuals linked to the U.S. consulate in Juarez came as a great shock and I wonder if you could bring us up to date on that case.

KELEMEN: Napolitano, on the way over here, called the killings outrageous. She said that there's a real focus on finding the perpetrators. There have been a lot of people rounded up in Juarez. But we're told still that there's not real hard evidence that the U.S. consulate workers were actually targeted in this. As to who was behind it, the running theory is that it was this gang that operates on both sides of the border. And it's not really a drug cartel; it's really just a criminal gang.

Clinton yesterday, before coming here, she spoke to a lot of the consulate workers, and I'm told there's just, you know, a lot of nervousness, not necessarily about working for the consulate but just getting to and from work. People live on both sides of the border and there's a lot of traveling and it's a very dangerous city now.

SIEGEL: Now, a year ago, the Mexican government was complaining that aid from the U.S. that had been promised before that - a billion dollars - was very slow in coming. Are they still complaining about that? Is the aid still slow in coming?

KELEMEN: Yeah, they do say that only a fraction of the aid has materialized. U.S. officials say they're working on it, that there's more than $300 million in aid in President Obama's budget this year. And Clinton told this meeting today that on this front she claimed to have good news to share. She said that U.S. equipment deliveries are accelerating and so is training.

SIEGEL: Did the Mexicans raise the role that the U.S. demand for elicit drugs plays in this entire traffic?

KELEMEN: They always do that, and in fact there was a meeting in Washington recently about that. And the U.S. says they're putting more resources toward that end.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Michele.

KELEMEN: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Michele Kelemen in Mexico City where she's traveling with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

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