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Drug war may dominate US-Canada-Mexico summit

President Obama arrives in Guadalajara for two days of meetings with President Felipe Calderón of Mexico and Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada.

By Staff writer / August 9, 2009

The Cabanas Cultural Institute, where the North American Leaders Summit will take place, is seen in Guadalajara, Mexico, Saturday.

Eduardo Verdugo/AP

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Mexico City

When the heads of state of the United States, Mexico, and Canada meet Sunday for the summit of North American leaders in Guadalajara, clean energy, economic woes, and swine flu will be key talking points, but Mexico's drug-related violence is expected to overshadow all other issues.

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And while the language of "co-responsibility" has defined the US attitude toward Mexico's struggle against its drug cartels, the summit comes as increasing doubts loom over the strategy on both sides of the border.

Some US members of congress are requesting that money from an aid package called the Merida Initiative be withheld over human rights abuse allegations against the Mexican military, which is leading the fight against organized crime.

And while Mexican President Felipe Calderón is often exalted by US officials for his hard line against drug traffickers, he is beginning to face a backlash at home as record violence stains his military effort.

"At the summit Calderón will want [President] Obama to commit to a more energetic effort to get Merida rolling," says Federico Estevez, a political analyst at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico. But he faces hurdles north of the border and at home. "Calderón's broad strategy against organized crime in Mexico was rejected by the electorate in the midterm elections. He doesn't have more than tacit support for what he is doing."

The meeting between President Calderón, President Obama, and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper will touch on the recession that all three nations face. The leaders will also discuss cooperation on greenhouse-gas emissions and preparations for swine flu as autumn approaches. "The bottom line is that what affects our bordering neighbors has the potential to affect us all, so we want to be certain that we have the tightest and best possible cooperation," National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones said at a White House briefing in Washington ahead of the summit.