The United States is at least as responsible as Mexico for the violent drug wars that are roiling its southern neighbor because of an insatiable US market for narcotics, the failure to stop weapons smuggling southward and a three-decade "war" on drugs that "has not worked," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday.
"Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade. Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police officers, soldiers and civilians," Mrs. Clinton said.
"How could anyone conclude any differently? . . . I feel very strongly we have co-responsibility," she said.
Clinton's blunt remarks as she flew to Mexico Wednesday were the clearest by any senior US official in recent memory that American habits and government policies have stoked the drug trade and a spreading epidemic of criminal violence in northern Mexico.
They are likely to be well received by top officials in the government of Mexican President Felipe Calderón, which is battling rising lawlessness and has called on the Obama administration to do more to stop the flow of guns and cash from the United States into Mexico.
Clinton is meeting with Mr. Calderón and his top aides, including security and law enforcement chiefs, during a two-day trip that will be dominated by the cartel-related killings that have left more than 7,000 Mexicans dead since January 2008.
The secretary of state acknowledged that the violence is "horrific," even as she stressed that hers is not a single-issue visit. Also on the agenda are trade disputes, clean energy and climate change, and the global economic recession.
Clinton's remarks continue the more humble tone toward the rest of the world that President Barack Obama has adopted, in contrast with the Bush administration, which often was seen as hectoring friends and adversaries alike.
Stepping beyond strictly foreign-policy issues, the secretary of state hinted at major changes to come in the Obama administration's domestic drug-control strategy, with more emphasis on reducing demand and on treatment programs for drug abusers.
"It's not working," she said of the current approach.
"We have certainly been pursuing these strategies for . . . a long time. I remember Mrs. Reagan's 'just say no,' " Clinton said, referring to former first lady Nancy Reagan's exhortation to young people to refuse drugs. "It's been very difficult."
The White House announced Tuesday that it was dispatching of hundreds of additional federal agents to the US-Mexican border to help border states deal with the spillover effects of the violence, as well as taking new steps to interdict drugs coming north and cash and weapons flowing south.
Congress has approved $700 million in assistance to help Mexico fight drug traffickers and build more effective security forces. However, lawmakers cut back the first installment of aid under the Merida Initiative from $450 million to $300 million. Some members of Congress and Mexican officials complain that promised equipment to fight the cartels is taking too long to arrive.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent Democrat from Connecticut who chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said Wednesday that the administration's new plan was "a significant first step forward. But I don't think it is enough."
• Marisa Taylor contributed to this article from Washington.
MORE FROM MCCLATCHY:
Drug violence pushes Mexico to top of US security concerns
Commentary: US must do more to reduce violence on Mexican border
Obama: Troop move to Mexican border under consideration