Correction to This Article
This article and an April 16 Page One article referred to government statements that 90 percent of guns seized from narco-traffickers in Mexico are traced to the United States. U.S. officials say 90 percent of weapons submitted to the United States for tracing originate in this country.

For Obama, Calderón, a Meeting of Minds

President Barack Obama today begins his First Latin American tour since taking office. The first stop will be Mexico City and a show of support for President Felipe Calderon, who's in a desperate struggle with drug lords. Video by AP
By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 17, 2009

MEXICO CITY, April 16 -- President Obama and his Mexican counterpart, Felipe Calderón, outlined a common approach Thursday to combating drug violence, climate change and trade disputes but appeared to part ways over the urgency of reinstating a U.S. ban on assault weapons.

On his first presidential visit to Mexico, Obama praised Calderón for taking on the drug cartels, whose potent arsenals and economic power are threatening the integrity of the Mexican state. Obama announced that he will push the U.S. Senate to ratify an inter-American arms-trafficking treaty.

But Obama indicated that while he favors reinstating the U.S. ban on assault weapons, which Congress allowed to expire five years ago, the move would face too much political opposition to happen soon. He said better enforcing existing laws to prevent arms smuggling would have a more immediate effect on keeping U.S. weapons from Mexican cartels.

"I continue to believe that we can respect and honor the Second Amendment rights in our Constitution, the rights of sportsmen and hunters and homeowners who want to keep their families safe to lawfully bear arms, while dealing with assault weapons that, as we know, here in Mexico, are helping to fuel extraordinary violence," he said in a news conference with Calderón at Los Pinos, the presidential compound. "Now, having said that, I think none of us are under the illusion that reinstating that ban would be easy."

Calderón said drug violence has soared since the assault weapons ban expired. He said he favors a solution "respecting the constitutional rights of the Americans [that] at the same time will prevent, or rather avoid, that organized crime becomes better organized in our country."

"But crime is not only acting in Mexico," he said. "It is also acting in the United States. Organized crime is acting in both countries."

Obama's visit, the first by a U.S. president to the capital since a Bill Clinton stop in 1997, represents a show of support for Calderón, who two years ago became the first Mexican president to fully deploy the army against drug cartels that supply a lucrative U.S. market.

Since then, more than 10,000 people have died in drug-related violence. The Bush administration won approval of a three-year, $1.4 billion counternarcotics package for Mexico and some Central American countries last June, but the military hardware has been slow in arriving. Obama pledged to expedite its delivery.

The two men expressed confidence they would resolve a trade dispute originating in a vote last month by the U.S. Congress to cancel a pilot program allowing Mexican truckers on U.S. highways, as permitted by the North American Free Trade Agreement. They emphasized the need for comprehensive immigration reform, although Obama did not say when he intended to push such legislation in Congress.

And they announced a new partnership to promote clean energy and reduce greenhouse gases in both countries by sharing academic research and promoting alternative energy sources such as wind and solar power along the border, among other measures.

But the drug violence dominated their public appearance on a day when the Mexican military engaged in a firefight with suspected drug traffickers in the southern state of Guerrero. The battle left 15 smugglers and one soldier dead, and the military said it confiscated assault rifles and grenades in the aftermath.

Obama said more than 90 percent of weapons seized by Mexican authorities have come from the United States. In the days leading up to the president's visit here, senior Obama administration officials said the government was focused on enforcing existing U.S. laws to stop arms smuggling, although Mexican officials had called for more help.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company