Obama To Discuss Trade, Drug War With Calderon

President-elect Barack Obama has his first meeting with a foreign leader since he was elected in November. On Monday, Mr. Obama will discuss the drug war and trade issues with Mexico's President Felipe Calderon.

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Today, Barack Obama is having his first meeting with a foreign leader since he was elected in November. The president-elect will hold talks with Mexico's president, Felipe Calderon. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Today's meeting is supposed to be a sign of just how important the U.S.-Mexican relationship is. And transition officials say that since 1980, this sort of meeting has become something of a tradition, not a sign of a new initiative on Mexico. President Bush met with then Mexican President Vicente Fox in August of 2000 when Mr. Bush was still a presidential candidate. And President Clinton met with his Mexican counterpart before inauguration day in January of 1993.

These days, there are plenty of issues to talk about, from trade to immigration and the drug war. One of President Felipe Calderon's priorities is to make sure the Obama administration picks up on a new U.S. aid program to help Mexico combat the drug trade. President Bush's national security advisor, Stephen Hadley, told a Washington thinktank last week that the drug violence is a real threat.

Mr. STEPHEN J. HADLEY (Deputy National Security Advisor): It is a potential threat to the future of a democratic Mexico. And I think if you listen to President Calderon, that's how he sees it. It is very much the kind of threat that President Uribe faced in Colombia.

KELEMEN: And just as in the case of Colombia, the U.S. has started a more than one-billion-dollar multi-year program to help Mexico train and equip authorities to battle the drug cartels. Congress has already appropriated more than $400 million to the so-called Merida Initiative, and Hadley is encouraging the incoming Obama administration to keep it up.

Mr. HADLEY: We think what we have left for the new team is a good framework. And thanks to Congress, we have an initial down payment of some important resources to put into it, but again, this is going to be one of those long, long struggles.

KELEMEN: Mexico's President Calderon, a conservative who came to power in 2006, has also been worried about Mr. Obama's rhetoric on the campaign trail about the North American Free Trade Agreement. But Armand Peschard-Sverdrup, an expert who tracks U.S.-Mexican relations for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, doesn't expect NAFTA to be a dominant theme today.

Mr. ARMAND PESCHARD-SVERDRUP (Center for Strategic and International Studies): At least the Mexicans won't touch NAFTA per se in the meeting, but try to make President-elect Obama aware of how integrated the two economies are and how to some extent there is a benefit in working together in trying to strengthen the competitiveness of the two economies vis-a-vis the rest of the world.

KELEMEN: While today's meeting is meant to highlight the U.S.-Mexican relationship, Peschard-Sverdrup expects Mr. Obama will quickly turn his attention elsewhere.

Mr. PESCHARD-SVERDRUP: That's one of the risks, that at the end of the day it ends up creating high expectations at a time when, you know, President Obama's going to be preoccupied with other very pressing priorities, primarily the economy.

KELEMEN: And relations with Mexico will be far less a priority, handled mainly, he says, by Mr. Obama's aides at the White House and at the State Department. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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