GUADALAJARA, Mexico — President Barack Obama pressed for a new tone in the United States’ relationship with Mexico but found no immediate progress Sunday on the divisions between him and Mexican President Felipe Calderon over of the pace of U.S. drug-fighting aid and a ban on Mexican trucks north of the border.
Obama kicked off his second trip to Mexico as president with a friendly 45-minute meeting with Calderon that touched on the vast trade relationship between their two countries, their cooperation on swine flu and the violent Mexican gangs dominating the drug trade on both sides of the border. Their talks came before the start of a lightning-quick three-way summit between the United States, Mexico and Canada.
Often called the “Three Amigos” summit, the meeting of Obama, Calderon and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper began over dinner at a cultural institution in this town near the mountains.
The summit’s formal talks, the fifth for the three countries, were taking place today, followed by a meeting-capping joint appearance before reporters at midday.
During the separate sit-down between Obama and Calderon, the Mexican leader raised his concerns about the speed of implementation of the United States’ three-year, $1.4 billion drug-fighting package known as the Merida Initiative. One $100 million installment is being delayed over rising concerns among some in Congress about the Mexican army’s abuses.
The U.S. law requires Congress to withhold some funding unless the State Department reports Mexico is not violating human rights in the process of its anti-cartel crackdown that started in 2006.
Obama told Calderon that human rights is a major priority for him, but also assured him that the State Department is working to prepare a report that recognizes all Mexico’s efforts to prevent abuses, said a senior administration official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity in order to more freely describe private meetings.
Drug violence has killed more than 11,000 people since Mexico launched its crackdown. Mexican cities are living essentially under siege, and the killings are spilling over the border into the United States and as far as Canada.
Calderon also quizzed Obama on his earlier promise to restore a canceled pilot program that had allowed Mexican truckers to travel into the United States, the official said.