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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is in Mexico City today. She spent yesterday touring the Texas-Mexico border. Her trip south comes at a time when cooperation with the U.S. has been controversial in Mexico. But a high-profile arrest of one of Mexico's top cartel leaders may show closer cooperation than Mexico's president has publicly admitted. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports from Mexico City.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Standing at the busy, hot and windy port of entry at Brownsville, Texas, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano said the two countries have regional problems, and together will find regional solutions.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

SECRETARY JANET NAPOLITANO: When we combine forces and address them jointly, we are stronger. And so when we talk about partnership, we're not just throwing out the word. This is real meat on the bone.

KAHN: That meat, she says, is sharing police intelligence, and soon even patrolling the border together. Yesterday, Napolitano signed an agreement to start such a program with her counterpart across the border in Matamoros, Mexico.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

MIGUEL ANGEL OSORIO CHONG: (Spanish spoken)

KAHN: Mexican Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong said Mexico needs the United States, and he's convinced the United States needs Mexico, too. This is a much different tune for Osorio Chong and his boss President Enrique Pena Nieto. The new administration - which took power last December - doesn't like to talk publicly about drug trafficking or U.S.-Mexico cooperation. In fact, last May, the administration announced all information sharing between the two countries would be limited to Osorio Chong and his powerful interior ministry. Mexican officials were reportedly shocked at the open access given to U.S. law enforcement from the previous administration, says Duncan Wood of the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C.

DUNCAN WOOD: I've seen some quite-high-profile cases where U.S. government representatives have been asked to leave security facilities in Mexico, whereas previously, they were welcome there.

KAHN: And, Wood says, the Mexicans now also put more emphasis on their own capabilities to intercept drugs and wanted cartel leaders. That was the case just last week, when Mexico announced the capture of the leader of one of the country's most brutal cartels, Zeta kingpin Miguel Angel Trevino. At a press conference, the spokesperson for the Interior Ministry declined to answer a reporter's question whether the U.S. played a role in the arrest. This new approach has rattled many in U.S. law enforcement and led to fears that Mexico is backing away from its fight in the drug war. But U.S. Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar from the Texas border city of Laredo says cooperation remains strong, especially in the capture of Zeta kingpin Trevino.

REPRESENTATIVE HENRY CUELLAR: The U.S. has been providing intelligence to the Mexicans for a while now. That hasn't stopped. It's going to continue.

KAHN: Pena Nieto may be downplaying the drug war fight, and recently backed away from a campaign pledge to build a 10,000-strong elite national police force. But Alejandro Hope, a security analyst at Mexico's IMCO think-tank, says the current president's strategy is just like his predecessors.

ALEJANDRO HOPE: I'm quite sure that they will continue to exchange intelligence with the U.S.

KAHN: He says it's virtually the same, even if the packaging is different. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City.

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