Press Briefing by a Senior Administration Official on the Upcoming Visit of President Calderón of Mexico
Via Conference Call
11:35 A.M. EDT
MR. CHANG: Thank you, everyone, for joining the call and for waiting a few minutes.
We’ll get right underway with our senior administration official, who will preview the visit of President Calderón here at the White House tomorrow.
Turning it over to him.
SENIOR ADMINSTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you very much, Ben, and thank you all for joining the call. As you all know, tomorrow, President Felipe Calderón of Mexico will be in town for a state visit that will tomorrow consist of meetings with the President, lunch at the State Department, and then a dinner and reception here at the White House.
There is no more important relationship for the United States than our relationship with our neighbor. And it’s also -- there’s no more perhaps complex relationship in the world for the United States. And the partnership that the U.S. and Mexico have formed is based on shared values, on mutual respect, and mutual responsibility. And we’re going to see that borne out in the course of events tomorrow and the discussions and topics that the President will engage with President Calderón on.
This is just by way of background -- the fourth bilateral meeting that the President has had with President Calderón, the first being as President-elect back in January of 2009, and then in Mexico City in April of last year, and then in Guadalajara in August of last year.
It is also I think the 11th time, including those four, that the President will have met in a multilateral or bilateral setting with President Calderón, having met at -- in London for the G20, L’Aquila for the G8-plus-5, Pittsburgh for the G20, the Summit of the Americas, the U.N. General Assembly, the Copenhagen COP15, and the Nuclear Security Summit here in April.
It’s also in the context of a relationship where there’s been intense, high-level engagement across the Obama administration. The Secretary of State has traveled various times to Mexico in the past 16 months; the Secretary of Homeland Security; the Secretary of Defense; Commerce -- a broad range of individuals, senior-level individuals. And the same has been true of Mexican officials coming to Washington.
And that work and the agenda that we’ll see the President work through tomorrow with President Calderón shows kind of the breadth and range of the issues that I earlier noted as the kind of most complex relationship that the United States has. And they’ll discuss economic competitiveness; clean energy cooperation; safety and security of citizens in both countries; cooperation on hemispheric and global issues, from Honduras to Haiti to Iran to COP16, which will be in Cancun later this year, to the upcoming G20 summit in Toronto.
And just to touch on a couple of those areas before opening it up to your questions, the -- on economic competitiveness, obviously you have two Presidents focused on job growth and revitalizing their economies, and Mexico being one of our principal trading partners. You’ll see work on areas where our economic -- mutual economic growth between the two countries, where we can improve the economic cooperation for the benefit of both economies.
And part of that is on clean energy in terms of -- this will be building off of the framework for clean energy and climate change that we established when President Obama visited President Calderón last April. Work has been going on from the Department of Energy, the Department of State, and others with their Mexican counterparts on greater renewable energy cooperation, on electricity cooperation. And we’ll see the fruits of that in tomorrow’s meeting.
Also, security obviously is a big component of the bilateral relationship, and the deepening in an unprecedented way of the security cooperation between the two countries over the course of the last 16 months will be -- will certainly be a focus of the conversation between the two Presidents.
Both the Merida Initiative in terms of kind of a four-pronged strategy of enhancing the security in Mexico, and by extension in the United States, of disrupting the capacity of the -- of drug-trafficking organizations, of DTOs, to operate; to also strengthening the institutions that are necessary for long-term success, be they law enforcement, judicial, and penal institutions; creating a secure, modern, and efficient border, both in the security space this is important, and in economic competitiveness it is also an important aspect of our cooperation; and also helping build strong and resilient communities, particularly along the border where you have significant U.S. communities living side by side with large Mexican communities.
On the U.S. side -- but the security goes beyond just what we’re doing in Mexico in partnership with the Mexican government; it’s also what the United States government, the Obama administration, have been doing over the course of the last 16 months to place an unprecedented amount of civilian law enforcement in the border regions, both DHS and DOJ agencies, to focus on cutting down illegal flows in both directions -- illegal narcotics entering the United States, illegal weapons flows, and the proceeds of those businesses heading from the United States to Mexico.
You also see a focus on the steps that we’re taking -- both countries working together -- to reduce the demand for drugs in the two countries. President Obama has just recently put out his National Drug Control Strategy, which refocuses our efforts on treatment and prevention, and also already reflected in the Recovery Act, which included funding enhancements for those kinds of programs as well as an increase that was reflected in the FY11 budget request. But also, the work that we’re doing together with Mexico on leading out of the recent Merida high-level group meeting in March in Mexico City, where the two security teams agreed to do a drug use and prevalence study in the two countries so we understand the challenge and are making sure that we’re marshalling our resources appropriately.
Obviously, you’ll also -- the two Presidents will discuss immigration. The President will, as he has done on a number of occasions, reiterate his commitment to fixing our broken immigration system, recognizing the frustration that exists with the failure to fix that system to date, but also -- and highlighting the efforts that he and the administration have taken to work with Congress to reach out seeking Republican and Democratic support in Congress for the effort for comprehensive immigration reform because, of course, he can’t do this alone.
And we expect President Calderón to also discuss his views as he has been doing in public on recent developments, be it the Arizona immigration law, and more generally the issue of immigration, and efforts in Mexico, his efforts in Mexico to create the kind of economic opportunity that allows Mexicans to live out their dreams in their country of origin.
So there’s a broad and deep relationship, a broad and deep agenda that the two Presidents and their respective teams will have an opportunity to address tomorrow as an outgrowth of the kind of day-to-day, high-level interaction that has existed between the governments leading up to this visit since the very first day of the Obama administration and that will undoubtedly lead out from this visit.
And with that, I think we’ll open it up to questions.
MR. CHANG: Thanks. Let me just clarify before we start there that we’ll take a handful of questions, and that to repeat, this is all on background.
Q Yes, thank you. You mentioned the four meetings that the two Presidents have had. At each of those President Obama has pledged to resolve the trucking issue in accordance with the NAFTA treaty. Can you update us on what progress has been made, and just talk more generally about the trade issues that will be at the summit?
SENIOR ADMINSTRATION OFFICIAL: Certainly. And as I noted, kind of the economic competitiveness and mutual economic growth are things that we very much expect to discuss -- the President discuss with President Calderón and the two teams to have an opportunity to exchange views and see how we can work together to reach a goal that both Presidents have very clearly laid out in their own countries to revitalize economic vitality and job creation in both countries.
On the specific question, you are correct that in April and in August, when the Presidents met, they discussed the issue of Mexican trucking. Fully expect the issue to be part of tomorrow’s conversation. And I think the President will confirm his commitment to work with the Calderón government and with Congress to address the legitimate concerns that exist regarding the Mexican trucking program, while also abiding by our international obligations.
It is an important issue. We recognize its importance to President Calderón and to the relationship. And undoubtedly, the two Presidents will have an opportunity to get into that issue and continue working to resolve it.
Q Well, if I can follow on that, though, the word we’re hearing from Mexico City is that they’ve heard those words before. They don’t see any action. I mean, what can the President offer beyond just yet the same promise once again?
SENIOR ADMINSTRATION OFFICIAL: I guess -- I'm not going to get out in front of a conversation that the President is going to have to tomorrow with President Calderón on this issue. Again, we recognize, the President recognizes the importance of this issue for President Calderón and for Mexico. And I think I laid out pretty clearly how -- the President’s commitment to continue working forward to find a solution that takes into account the interests and concerns of all stakeholders.
MR. CHANG: Before we get to the second question, let me just make clear that, unfortunately, we’ll not be able to entertain follow-on questions given the short window of time. We want to get as many as we can into our phone call.
Okay, we’re ready for the second.
Q Yes, outside of the commitment of good intentions, what can we expect? I mean, any concrete announcement can we expect from this meeting?
SENIOR ADMINSTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think you’ll see a number of concrete announcements across the broad set of -- the agenda that I just described in terms of ways that the two governments are going to work together to enhance economic competitiveness. I think you’ll see concrete proposals and mechanisms that will come out of the discussions to move forward on the kind of cooperation that will enhance the economic well-being in both Mexico and in the United States.
I think in terms of creating a modern, secure, and efficient border, I think you’ll see concrete steps forward, building upon that which we’ve seen this year in terms of the openings of new border crossings, the investment in the modernization of border crossings, and a number of bridge projects that are underway.
On security, I think you will see a commitment and steps laid out by both governments to move forward and to deepen our cooperation against the DTOs.
And so I think you’ll see a number of concrete deliverables in -- on each of -- on energy cooperation, on clean energy cooperation. So I think across the board you will see the kind of delivering practical solutions to the challenges facing both the people in Mexico and in the United States. I think -- I’m confident you’ll see that coming out of tomorrow’s discussions between the two Presidents.
Q Hi, everyone. Thanks for doing the call. I want to talk a little bit about -- or you to talk a little bit about the Arizona law. I know it’s a state issue and President Obama and the Mexican President are on the same side of it, but can you talk substantively about what they’re planning to discuss, what commitments President Obama will make to President Calderón? And also, quickly, I’m sorry, it’s flaky, can I ask you to address the issue of the state dinner itself and how you’ll manage security, to the extent you can talk about it?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’m going to -- right off the bat I’m going to take a pass on the second question because that is completely outside my lane.
On the first question, I also don’t want to get in front of the President of the United States in terms of the commitments he’s going to make and the conversation he’s going to have with President Calderón on this issue. We certainly anticipate and welcome a conversation on the immigration issue writ large, the new law in Arizona, and the President has been very clear on the record as to his views on the law and on the proper way forward in dealing with it, that I don’t, again, feel the need to amplify on what he has -- he himself has said publicly on this issue.
But we certainly understand that this is an issue that has resonated in Mexico, is of deep concern to the Mexican government, and, again, underscores the importance, as the President has said, of dealing with that frustration in the United States, fixing our broken immigration system, and moving forward with comprehensive immigration reform that, again, can only be done in a bipartisan fashion.
So I think that is the flavor, if you will, of the conversation that the two of them will have tomorrow regarding the immigration issue.
Q Thank you for taking my question. I think on the Arizona topic, what we are all expecting to hear is if the President is going to announce the Department of Justice position about this legislation. So can we -- I mean, I know you have said that you are not going to put yourself in front of what the President is going to say, but, I mean, is there any possibility that the President will do this?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’m not sure I’ve got anything beyond what I just answered in terms of the question about how we’re going to engage on this issue. Again, immigration is an issue that we certainly anticipate and welcome coming up in the context of this visit. The President’s views on the Arizona law are quite clear and have come directly from him. And his interest and his leadership on the question of comprehensive immigration reform are also quite clear. And he will undoubtedly engage in a conversation with President Calderón about the Arizona law, about the need for comprehensive immigration, and how these issues affect both the bilateral relationship and each of our two countries.
Q Yes, hi. I’d like to see if you could answer a question about Plan Merida. Can you give us a definitive idea of how much has been funded? I think $1.12 billion was the original figure -- how much of that has been funded? How much is planned to be funded? And the impression in Mexico is that this administration is less committed to Plan Merida than the previous administration. Maybe you can address that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The Merida Initiative, as President Obama has made very clear, is a commitment that he is firmly and strongly in support of, and one that he looks forward to building off of.
As you know, Merida was originally a three-year plan. You had appropriated approximately $1.3 billion for the Merida Initiative, but there have been additional -- and there will be additional requests going forward to continue support for institution-building, and actually for the four prongs that I talked about earlier in terms of incapacitating DTO operations; building the kinds of institutions that are necessary for long-term success; creating a modern and efficient border and also helping build strong and resilient communities.
It’s also the case -- so there’s no wavering in commitment. I think President Calderón has recognized and welcomed the President’s commitment to the Merida Initiative, and more importantly than to a specific account, if you will, is to the overall effort and the overall partnership that extends into that which we do here at home as well, because our investments and the President’s efforts in terms of enhancing law enforcement security along the southwest border don’t get caught -- don’t get picked up in the “Merida Initiative number,” but have a very important impact on the security situation by shutting off -- working to shut off illegal flows of illegal weapons and cash that are part of the lifeblood of DTOs going from the United States to Mexico.
So the commitment is a longstanding one and a firmly held one from the President to remain a strong, capable, willing partner with Mexico. And it’s also important to remember that the vast -- under Merida as originally conceived and proposed by the Mexican government itself, the vast majority of the resources are from the government of Mexico and were always contemplated to be from the government of Mexico.
Q Hello. My question is about the COP16 climate meeting in Cancun. President Obama supports the Copenhagen Accord but many Latin American countries do not. They say a legally binding agreement is needed to address the worst effects of climate change, rather than this voluntary accord. Can you tell us, will the Obama administration work towards a legally binding agreement in Cancun?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think tomorrow you’ll see the two Presidents certainly engage on this issue. President Calderón has been a leader on global climate change in terms of his green fund financing mechanism. And it’s an issue that the President and President Calderón have engaged on numerous times, both in the creation of the bilateral clean energy and climate framework last April and in various interactions, including in Copenhagen.
So I think what will be clear coming out of tomorrow is that Mexico has a strong partner in the United States in working towards a successful outcome in Cancun at COP16 later this year.
MR. CHANG: We’ll have two more questions.
Q I have a question with regard to the war on drugs. Recently the Obama administration has mentioned that President Calderón during his tenure has been successful in the war against drugs. My question to you is how the U.S. government measure success in Mexico. With the number of deaths? Since Calderón administration took effect in Mexico, there has been some arrests of drug traffickers, but no one of the bigger cartels, like “El Chapo” Guzman. And today, National Public Radio says that they have -- they run an investigation that shows that the government of Calderón is protecting “El Chapo” Guzman from the cartel Sinaloa. Can you tell us how you guys measure success, or how you explain that the Mexican people don’t feel that the government of Calderón has been successful in the war on drugs?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: As you know this is a very difficult fight against a very violent group of drug-trafficking organizations. And the pressure that the Calderón administration has placed on the DTOs has certainly generated a great deal of violence as those organizations fight for more restricted access to the United States in terms of the drug market. So clearly violence is of concern. I believe it is of concern to both governments. But putting pressure on the DTOs is an important part of a multi-pronged strategy to create a lasting dismantlement of these organizations that generate crime and violence in Mexico and have deleterious effects in the United States as well.
And in terms of pressure placed on the cartels, I think we’ve over the course of the last several months seen some very important figures either in the last couple of weeks extradited to the United States from Mexico, captured or killed resisting capture in Mexico, including Arturo Beltran Leyva, and others from the Beltran Leyva organization who have been arrested. So I think you see a consistent effort by Mexican authorities to maintain pressure on the DTOs.
And, again, this is a partnership where we are supporting a multi-pronged approach, where success is not something that you will see one day to the next, but rather requires a long-term commitment, and it’s the long-term commitment that President Obama has made clear that the United States shares with Mexico in addressing this challenge for both of our countries.
MR. CHANG: And this will be our last question.
Q Yes, hello. Actually, you don’t seem to be able to tell us what are the concrete steps or agreements that may come out of these meetings. Related to those two questions already mentioned, the trucking issue and the immigration issue, what are the obstacles -- especially in the trucking issue, you -- the administration is seeing or confronting in the Congress? I mean, what is the Democrat -- what is exactly blocking in that issue that it doesn’t give you the chance to propose something clearly to President Calderón?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks for the question. On the question of trucking, as you well know, this is an issue that generates a great deal of interest and concern from members of Congress regarding safety aspects of the program. And those are concerns that we take seriously, that the President is committed to working through, again, while respecting our international obligations. And it’s that combination that we have been working on, we will continue to work on.
And, again, tomorrow, I believe the President will have an opportunity to discuss this issue further with President Calderón. And I know you all would like to know what the President may tell President Calderón before President Calderón hears it, but I think it’s only appropriate that that conversation be had between the two of them, rather than between myself and all of you. But it is certainly an issue that we recognize the importance of and are committed to solving in a way that respects the equities of all interested parties.
MR. CHANG: And that's it. Thanks, everyone, very much for participating and for your interest in this very important visit tomorrow.
12:07 P.M. EDT