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U.S. president backs Mexico drug fight, ducks migration issue
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14:01, April 17, 2009

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U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday publicly backed Mexico's battle against drug traffickers, just hours after a fight between Mexican soldiers and suspected smugglers, which killed at least 16 in southern Mexico.

"At a time when the Mexican government has taken on the drug cartels which have plagued both sides of the border, it is critical that the United States joins as a full partner ... on our side of the border, dealing with the flow of guns and cash south," Obama, who is here on his first state visit to Mexico, told a public welcoming ceremony given by his Mexican counterpart Felipe Calderon.

"When Mexico is not just a regional leader but a global leader, it is critical that we join together around the issues that can be solved by the two nations," Obama said, identifying poverty and climate change specifically among these tasks.

He also said that the United States and Mexico will have to stand side by side in promoting common security and prosperity.

Earlier in Guerrero, southern Mexico, soldiers patrolling in a remote hilltop village were attacked by suspected smugglers when they tried to search a column of vehicles. One soldier and 15 smugglers died in the fight.

Calderon's government has begun a fierce battle against the nation's drug cartels within weeks of taking office in December 2006. As many as 30,000 soldiers and federal police have been deployed to 13 of Mexico's 32 states.

Some 6,300 people have been killed in the fight between government forces and drug gangs and between different cartels themselves.

Mexican Ambassador to the United States Arturo Sarurkhan said last week that 90 percent of the weapons in his country came from the United States, where gun laws are looser.

At the welcoming ceremony, Calderon told Obama: "We have the opportunity for a new era of trust and cooperation."

He also expressed hope that the United States will "carry out a comprehensive migration reform... Mexico needs U.S. investment just as the United States needs the push of Mexican labor."

Obama did not give any direct reply to Calderon's suggestions on migration. The U.S. legislature has rejected several bills on the topic during the administration of George W. Bush.

Obama recently raised the topic at a meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, a group of U.S. legislators with roots in the Spanish-speaking Americas.

Also missing from the speech was any discussion of a recent U.S.-Mexico trade dispute.

In March, Mexico set new tariffs worth 2.4 billion U.S. dollars on 89 U.S. products in response to the U.S. Congress' cancellation of a pilot program for Mexican cross-border truckers.

The United States had committed to allowing Mexican truckers in1994, as part of the North American Free Trade Agreement signed by both nations. The pilot program began over a decade later in 2007.

Later in the day, Obama promised U.S.-Mexico agreements on green jobs and climate change, and on improving joint security measures.


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