Obama talks guns, immigration in Mexico

He vows to support a regional treaty to curb gun trafficking as well as greater cooperation on clean energy.

Dario Lopez-Mills/AP
Friendly neighbor: President Obama speaks at a news conference in Mexico City Thursday. He promised to help Mexico fight drug cartels responsible for widespread violence in the country.

President Obama struck a realistic tone in his first-ever visit to Mexico, pledging cooperation on key issues such as drug violence and immigration, but warning that nothing he or his Mexican counterpart could do would solve the problems completely.

In what has been scaled back to a less-than-24-hour visit, Mr. Obama also announced a few initiatives. He said he would push the United States Senate to ratify a treaty aimed at regulating the trafficking of certain types of guns in the Americas – a measure that was signed by President Clinton in 1997 but never ratified. In addition, he said that the US and Mexico, in tandem with other countries in the hemisphere, will pursue a clean-energy partnership.

The president sought to stress that the two countries were not linked solely by the challenges they share. "Our relationship is not defined only by these problems," he said in an afternoon press conference with Mexican President Felipe Calderón. "It is also defined by our opportunities."

During the press conference, Mr. Obama directly addressed controversial issues such as immigration and the violence sparked by drug wars here. In previsit interviews, Mr. Calderón told US media that he would ask for a reinstatement of the lapsed assault-weapons ban. Obama acknowledged that as a candidate he supported reinstating the ban that lapsed in 2004, but that it would be wiser turn to more realistic pursuits, like better enforcement of existing laws.

"I haven’t changed my opinion. [The ban] would make sense, I continue believing that," he said. "[But] none of us is under the illusion that reinstating the ban would be easy."

The goal, both Obama and Calderón emphasized, is not a utopian elimination of drugs and related violence, but a reduction to a more manageable level.

"Are we going to eliminate all drug flows? Are we going to eliminate all guns over the border? That’s not a not realistic objective," Obama said. "What is a realistic objective is to reduce it so significantly – so drastically that it becomes once again a localized criminal problem as opposed to a major structural problem."

Calderón seconded Obama’s more modest aims. A medium-term goal for Mexico is a full reform of its police, cutting corruption and boosting efficiency and capability, he said. "What we want is a technically and technologically advanced police force, and the help of the US will be fundamental in accomplishing that," he added.

Yet he tweaked the US for its high level of drug use, which feeds Mexico’s drug-trafficking gangs. "Of course drug trafficking cannot be ended by decree," he said. "As long as there is a high demand, there will be high supply."

Calderón asserted that during his two years and four months in office, more than 16,000 assault weapons have been seized in Mexico – and that 90 percent of them have come from the US.

A report released Thursday by the Violence Policy Center (VPC) in Washington appeared to back such assertions. US court records from southwestern states show that illegal gun traffickers smuggling firearms to Mexico are seeking a variety of weapons from US gun shops, the report concluded. These include semiautomatic assault weapons, armor-piercing handguns, and .50 caliber antiarmor sniper rifles.

The VPC obtained records filed in 21 federal firearms-smuggling prosecutions in Arizona, California, Nevada, and Texas between February 2006 and February 2009.

On Immigration, Obama reiterated his determination to pass reform legislation this year. But he also said the US has "a legitimate concern" over the hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who arrive from dozens of countries every year "without anyone knowing who they are."

Part of his goal, he said, is to provide those people with a path to legal status: "They need to come out of the shadows."

Calderón said that the only way to stop the migration "is to provide opportunities for our citizens" in Mexico. In the meantime, he added, the only option is to proceed with the kind of fair and just immigration reform Obama said he will seek this year.

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