Obama to Announce Push for Arms Treaty Ratification in Mexico

April 18/09
On his first trip to Mexico as president, Barack Obama plans to announce Thursday that he will push the U.S. Senate to ratify an inter-American arms trafficking treaty designed to curb the flow of guns and ammunition to drug cartels and other armed groups in the hemisphere.

Obama will make the announcement after meeting with Mexican President Felipe Calderon Thursday afternoon, senior administration officials told FOX News. The meeting is the centerpiece of Obama's visit to Mexico, whose government is engaged in a broad war against heavily armed drug cartels now threatening the integrity of the state.

The regional treaty, adopted by the Organization of American States, was signed by former President Bill Clinton in 1997 but never ratified by the Senate.

During his stop in Mexico City on Thursday, Obama will emphasize cross-border cooperation and probably put a focus on clean energy, but the economic crisis and the bloody drug trade have set the tone.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon greeted Obama to the presidential residence, Los Pinos, with an acknowledgment of the costs "to turn Mexico into a safer country." Citing a visit a half-century ago by President John F. Kennedy, Calderon called for a new era of cooperation between the neighboring countries.

"In order for Mexico to grow and prosper, Mexico needs the United States' investments, and the United States of America needs the strength of the Mexican labor force," Calderon said.

Obama echoed Caledron's call for cooperation in his brief statements and said it was more important than ever for the two countries to work together in grappling with the drug war.

"At a time when the Mexican government has so courageously taken on the drug cartels that have plagued both sides of the border, it is absolutely critical that the United States joins as a full partner in dealing with this issue," he said.

Among the other touchy points are disagreement over a lapsed U.S. assault weapons ban, a standoff over cross-border trucking, and immigration.

The escalating drug war in Mexico is spilling into the United States, and confronting Obama with a foreign crisis much closer than North Korea or Afghanistan. Mexico is the main hub for cocaine and other drugs entering the U.S.; the United States is the primary source of guns used in Mexico's drug-related killings.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told FOX News Thursday the meetings with Mexican officials are not about pointing fingers but solving problems.

"So on the U.S. side we want to make sure that spillover violence doesn't occur. But we also want to assist Mexico in its own efforts to make sure -- to clamp down on these cartels; to do what they can to break them up," she said. "Well, you've got to deal with several things simultaneously. One is, again, working with Mexico to increase their own law enforcement capacity. Two is, increasing our own resources at the border itself."

Calderon's aggressive stand against drug cartels has won him the aid of the United States and the prominent political backing of Obama -- never as evident as on Thursday, when he left Washington to fly to the Mexican capital and stand with Calderon on his own turf.

Interviewed Wednesday by CNN en Espanol, Obama said Calderon is doing a "heroic job" in his battle with the cartels.

As for the U.S. role, he said, "We are going to be dealing not only with drug interdiction coming north, but also working on helping to curb the flow of cash and guns going south."

Obama's overnight Mexican stop came on the way to the Summit of the Americas in the two-island Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago, where he hopes to set a new tone for relations with Latin America.

"We will renew and sustain a broader partnership between the United States and the hemisphere on behalf of our common prosperity and our common security," he wrote in an opinion column printed in a dozen newspapers throughout the region.

In the past, Obama said, America has been "too easily distracted by other priorities" while leaders throughout the Americas have been "mired in the old debates of the past."

More than 10,000 people have been killed in Mexico in drug-related violence since Calderon's stepped-up effort against the cartels began in 2006. The State Department says contract killings and kidnappings on U.S. soil, carried out by Mexican drug cartels, are on the rise too.

A U.S. military report just five months ago raised the specter of Mexico collapsing into a failed state with its government under siege by gangs and drug cartels. It named only one other country in such a worst-case scenario: Pakistan. The assertion incensed Mexican officials; Obama's team disavowed it.

Indeed, the Obama administration has gone the other direction, showering attention on Mexico.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in Mexico City that the U.S. shared responsibility for the drug war. She said America's "insatiable demand" for illegal drugs fueled the trade and that the U.S. had an "inability" to stop weapons from being smuggled south.

Obama has dispatched hundreds of federal agents, along with high-tech surveillance gear and drug-sniffing dogs, to the Southwest to help Mexico fight drug cartels. He sent Congress a war-spending request that made room for $350 million for security along the U.S.-Mexico border. He added three Mexican organizations to a list of suspected international drug kingpins.

He dispatched three Cabinet secretaries to Mexico. And he just named a "border czar."