| WASHINGTON, March 19
WASHINGTON, March 19 U.S. and Mexican security
officials will strategize next month on fighting the arms trade
fueling Mexico's bloody drug war, but a U.S. ban on assault
rifles favored by the traffickers will not be on the agenda.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security
Janet Napolitano announced plans this week to meet their
Mexican counterparts -- Attorney General Eduardo Medina and
Interior Minister Fernando Francisco Gomez Mont -- at an arms
trafficking conference in Cuernavaca, Mexico in early April.
Napolitano told reporters on Thursday the officials will
discuss ways of fighting the huge flow of weapons from the
United States into Mexico, where they are used by drug gangs in
turf battles that killed 6,000 people last year.
To Mexico's great unease, the widely available U.S. guns
are often the merchandise carried back along smuggling routes
for illegal drugs coming into the United States.
The Mexican drug violence has ignited fears that it would
spill over into the United States, and officials in Washington
are drawing up new contingency plans for sending military
troops if needed to U.S. areas affected by drug violence.
"The only issue is at what level do we (invoke) in the
worst-case scenarios, and we're not at the worst-case scenarios
yet," she said.
The plans are expected soon, along with a more-immediate
Mexican border security plan to be announced separately,
She said she did not expect regular military forces to be
deployed to any violent scenario. Rather, she said, "the real
issue is the National Guard right now."
In February, Holder had said the Obama administration would
push for renewing a U.S. ban on semi-automatic assault weapons
that expired under former President George W. Bush. He said it
would "have a positive impact in Mexico, at a minimum."
Assault weapons are among the smugglers' favorite weapons.
But U.S. gun-owners groups, who represent a powerful voting
bloc wary of the Obama administration, reacted in sharp protest
to Holder's comments.
This week neither Holder nor Napolitano revealed any
intention of offering an assault-weapons ban to their Mexican
"I think what we're going to do is try to enforce the laws
that we have on the books," Holder told reporters on
Napolitano on Thursday gave a similar answer when asked if
an assault-weapons ban would be on the table at Cuernavaca.
"There's lots that you can do on the investigation and
prosecution side under the existing laws. The key thing is to
improve and to keep improving on our interdiction of the
weapons before they even get in there."
Issues that will be discussed include cracking down on
"straw purchasers" who buy guns on smugglers' behalf in the
United States, and more quickly tracing weapons found in Mexico
in an attempt to pinpoint major U.S. sellers.
Improving detection systems at the U.S.-Mexican border and
ports will be another significant topic, she said.
(Editing by Anthony Boadle)