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Clinton-led delegation vows US backing in Mexico drug war

American demand is fueling violence, authorities warn

The drug cartels in Mexico ‘are fighting against both of our governments,’ Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said. The drug cartels in Mexico ‘are fighting against both of our governments,’ Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said.
By Robert Burns
Associated Press / March 24, 2010

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MEXICO CITY — A cast of senior US security officials pledged long-term support for Mexico’s drug war while acknowledging yesterday that an insatiable US appetite for illegal narcotics is at the core of the problem.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who led the US delegation, said at the meeting that the drug cartels responsible for increasing violence in the border region are fighting not just Mexican military and law enforcement forces, but also the United States.

“There is no question that they are fighting against both of our governments,’’ she said, according to a copy of her closed-door remarks. “Tragically, that fact was underscored on March 13th’’ with the murders of two Americans and a Mexican affiliated with the US Consulate in Ciudad Juárez, Clinton said.

Clinton pledged US efforts with Mexico and at home to reduce the demand for drugs in the United States and the flow of guns and drug proceeds to Mexico.

To send a message that the United States was serious about its pledge, it sent the Obama administration’s most senior deputies — including Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“Sending a delegation of this stature to Mexico shows our level of commitment to working with the Mexican government to help them combat this threat within their midst, and one that ultimately permeates into our country and becomes a threat to our citizens as well,’’ said Geoff Morrell, Pentagon press secretary.

US officials see a strategic problem with their neighbor’s surging violence and unstable judicial and law enforcement systems. Mexican officials attribute that instability to the insatiable US demand for lucrative and illegal narcotics.

The United States has sent helicopters, X-ray vans, and sniffer dogs to help Mexico tackle drug cartels, but Mexican leaders attending the one-day session with the visiting US officials say Americans must tackle their problem of drug consumption.

Both Presidents Obama and Felipe Calderón have repeatedly stressed that theirs is a cooperative effort to disrupt Mexico’s powerful drug cartels, whose power struggles with one another and authorities have led to the deaths of 17,900 people since Calderón took office in late 2006.

Clinton was scheduled to meet separately with Calderón before her return to the United States.

Attending with Clinton were Gates; Mullen; Janet Napolitano, Homeland Security secretary; Dennis Blair, director of National Intelligence; and John Brennan, Obama’s counterterrorism and homeland security adviser. Senior officials from the Departments of Justice and Treasury also participated, along with officials from the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

The Mexican delegation was led by Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa.

Napolitano said the United States shares the blame for the enormity of the drug violence problem.

“We need to keep focusing on that drug demand-reduction issue,’’ she told reporters aboard the US government jet that ferried her, Clinton, and other senior officials from Washington.

In the Ciudad Juárez attacks, an American who worked at the consulate and her American husband, as well as a Mexican national employee of the consulate, were gunned down in separate vehicles after leaving a children’s party. US officials say it appears unlikely that the victims were targeted as US diplomats, but the circumstances of the shootings are still under investigation.

Napolitano said Calderón made the right decision to use military force against the drug organizations, but in the US view it will take a broader effort to include more civilian law enforcement agencies and deeper American assistance to prevail.

To improve cooperation and coordination between Washington and Mexico City, the Bush administration in 2008 promised $1.3 billion in aid under the Merida Initiative. But with just $128 million delivered so far, yesterday’s meeting was designed to refocus some of that spending in more effective ways.

“This new agenda expands our focus beyond disrupting drug trafficking organizations, which will remain a core element of our cooperation,’’ Clinton told the group.