Meet the Neighbors: Obama Sits Down With Mexico’s Calderon

January 12, 2009 - 6:32 AM
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Washington (AP) - Days before taking office, President-elect Barack Obama is meeting Mexican President Felipe Calderon, a pre-inauguration tradition that comes as Mexico's drug violence escalates and spills into the United States.
 
Obama transition officials say that Monday's session, to be held at the Mexican Cultural Institute in Washington, is intended to underscore the importance of the relationship between Mexico and the U.S.
 
Mexico's drug war has increasingly defined that relationship. U.S-Mexico ties remain strong, but immigration and trade concerns loom along with security matters.
 
Drug-related homicides doubled in Mexico last year, led by rising murder rates in cities across the border from the U.S. The Justice Department last month called Mexican cartels the biggest organized crime threat to the United States.
 
Calderon, whom U.S. officials have praised for deploying troops to fight cartels and capturing top drug kingpins, already won a multimillion-dollar anti-drug aid package from Washington last year. Obama supports that plan, known as the Merida Initiative, and promises to take up another cause that Calderon champions: a stop to smuggling guns from the U.S. to Mexico.
 
On other matters, Calderon's office said Sunday in a statement that he will press for "better conditions for Mexicans in the United States, based on respect for their rights," and may express concerns over stepped-up migrant raids. He may also push for expanded guest-worker programs.
 
Calderon might expect a friendly reception from Obama, who last year supported an unsuccessful immigration reform bill that would have given millions of undocumented migrants a path to citizenship. That measure, championed by President George W. Bush, died in Congress. Some lawmakers called it amnesty.
 
Calderon is also visiting leaders of Congress during his stay in Washington. He comes to the White House for a final sit-down with Bush on Tuesday.
 
During his presidential campaign, Obama raised the prospect of revisiting the North American Free Trade Agreement and attempting to negotiate more protections for U.S. workers. But at a meeting of Pacific Rim leaders in Peru last November, Calderon said any attempt to renegotiate the NAFTA would create "not more markets and more trade, but fewer markets and less trade."