STEVE INSKEEP, host:
President Obama put out a statement on the memos, referring to a dark and painful chapter in our history.
He did not draw in the past for long. The president flew to Mexico where he is promising help in a battle with drug traffickers, and he met with his Mexican counterpart Felipe Calderon. It was the start of a trip in which Mr. Obama seeks a fresh start in Latin America. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.
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SCOTT HORSLEY: During an outdoor dinner at Mexico City's anthropological museum, Presidents Barack Obama and Felipe Calderon both raised glasses of Mexican wine and toasted each other. Surrounded by relics of past civilization, the two men promised to begin a new era in U.S.-Mexican relations one built on what Mr. Obama called a firm foundation of mutual respect and interest. The two men talked earlier about some of those interests, including trade, immigration and the economic meltdown that has put the brakes on what had been period of rapid growth in Latin America.
But the issue Mr. Obama said demands the most urgent action is Mexico's deadly battle against drug cartels.
President BARACK OBAMA: I will not pretend that this is Mexico's responsibility alone, that a demand for these drugs in the United States is what is helping to keep these cartels in business. This war is being waged with guns purchased not here but in the United States. More than 90 percent of the guns recovered in Mexico come from the United States, many from gun shops that line our shared border. So, we have responsibilities as well.
HORSLEY: The Obama administration has promised to speed up delivery of some long-promised assistance to Mexico, including a few military helicopters to help track down drug traffickers. Yesterday, Mr. Obama said he would ask Congress to ratify a 12-year-old treaty that's aimed at combating gun smugglers.
A reporter asked about reinstating the U.S. ban on assault weapons. Mr. Obama endorsed that idea during the campaign but he's reluctant to expend much political capital fighting for it now.
Pres. OBAMA: None of us are under any illusion that reinstating that ban would be easy. And so what we focused on is how we can improve our enforcement of existing laws - because even under current law, trafficking illegal firearms, sending them across the border, is illegal.
HORSLEY: President Calderon said the flow of assault weapons from the U.S. to Mexico is one of many thorny topics that came up during what he called an open, frank and trusting conversation. Mexico would clearly like the U.S. to do more to keep guns out of the hands of drug traffickers. But speaking through an interpreter, Calderon did not press too hard.
President FELIPE CALDERON (Mexico): (Through translator) We know that it is a political delicate topic because Americans truly appreciate their constitutional rights, and particularly those that are part of the Second Amendment.
HORSLEY: The Mexican president was a little more critical on the question of Cuba. Earlier this week, the Obama administration lifted restrictions on Cuban-Americans, making it easier to visit relatives on the island and to send more money home. But it made no move to end the 47-year-old trade embargo. Calderon wondered aloud if it isn't time for the U.S. to go further.
Pres. CALDERON: (Through translator) The question that has to be posed is whether the U.S. embargo on Cuba has worked. The reality is that the embargo has been there long before we were even born and yet things have not changed all that much in Cuba.
HORSLEY: Mr. Obama said the steps the administration took this week were a show of good faith, adding that the ball is now in Cuba's court.
Pres. OBAMA: A relationship that effectively has been frozen for 50 years is not going to thaw overnight. And so having taken the first step, I think it's very much in our interest to see whether Cuba is also ready to change.
HORSLEY: Cuban President Raul Castro said last night, Cuba is willing to discuss human rights, political prisoners and anything else with the U.S., so long as the talks are on equal terms. Mr. Obama is likely to hear more about Cuba over the weekend. From Mexico, he heads to the Caribbean island of Trinidad and a summit meeting with 33 other leaders from throughout the Western hemisphere.
Scott Horsley, NPR News, Mexico City.
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