* Obama says up to Mexico to determine own security
* Obama, Pena Nieto seek to spotlight business, trade ties
* Presidents agree to push Asia-Pacific trade deal
* Cross-border oil drilling deal also discussed
By Mark Felsenthal and Steve Holland
MEXICO CITY, May 2 U.S. President Barack Obama
gave his blessing on Thursday to a new security arrangement with
Mexican leader Enrique Pena Nieto, in which Mexico will make
reducing violence a priority over hunting drug cartel kingpins
in the war against organized crime.
The two presidents said they also want to step up trade and
business ties that have been overshadowed by the battle against
"It is obviously up to the Mexican people to determine their
security structures and how it engages with other nations
including the United States," Obama said at a joint press
conference with Pena Nieto.
At the start of a two-day visit to Mexico, Obama sought to
draw attention to the emerging might of Latin America's No.2
economy, even as worries about containing drug-trafficking and
related violence remained an inescapable subtext.
The two leaders pledged to begin holding cabinet level
meetings focused on boosting business between the two countries
and to expand educational changes. The first high-level meeting
is set for the fall.
The U.S. president pledged support for Pena Nieto's new
policy of restricting contacts with the United States on drugs
and drug-related violence to a single point, Mexico's Ministry
of the Interior. He acknowledged that the United States can play
a role with its own domestic policies.
"We look forward to continuing our good cooperation in any
way," he said. "I also reaffirmed our determination in the
United States to meet our responsibilities to reduce the demand
for illegal drugs and to combat the southbound flow of illegal
guns and cash."
Mexico's new "single-door" policy would be an abrupt change
from the wide latitude the U.S. government enjoyed in working
with Mexican officials across agencies under Pena Nieto's
predecessor, Felipe Calderon.
The change has raised questions about Mexico's commitment to
combating drug trafficking and drug-related violence.
Pena Nieto plans to shift the weight of combating organized
crime from the military onto a new militarized police force, but
has made few concrete changes so far, instead seeking to focus
public attention on the economy rather than violence.
The Mexican government has said that killings linked to
organized crime fell 14 percent in the first four months of Pena
Nieto's presidency, but 4,249 people still were killed during
More than 70,000 people are estimated to have been killed in
drug violence in Mexico since 2007, and gang-style murders
continue to provide lurid headlines.
Some question whether Calderon's aggressive policies, which
focused on eradicating gang leaders, has been successful or
whether it has generated additional violence as rival factions
vie for control of turf.
Pena Nieto said his approach will emphasize reducing
bloodshed and will operate more smoothly.
"Under this new strategy, what we are trying to do is put in
order, institutionalize the security cooperation we have today
with the United States, and establish clear and singular
channels to help us be more efficient and achieve better
results," Pena Nieto said in Spanish.
In a letter to Obama ahead of his visit, rights group Human
Rights Watch urged him to review the United States' public
security approach with Mexico, rapping his administration for
offering "uncritical support" for Calderon's policies and citing
a "dramatic increase" in rights abuses.
Both Obama and Pena Nieto have said they want the visit to
focus on economic issues rather than security. Pena Nieto is
eager to underscore Mexico's recent run of solid economic
growth, fueled in part by its increasing attractiveness as a
The leaders pledged to conclude a trade agreement with
Asia-Pacific nations, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, by the end
of the year.
By highlighting Mexico's progress in moving up the economic
ladder, Obama is also emphasizing that his own domestic goal of
reforming U.S. immigration laws will not promote an exodus of
Mexicans into the United States.
"Part of what we discussed is the importance of getting it
done, precisely because we do so much business between our two
countries," he said, referring to immigration reform that has
drawn bipartisan support in Washington. "If we're going to get
that done, now's the time to do it."
The two presidents at their meeting discussed a much
publicized energy agreement that would remove obstacles to
expanding deepwater drilling for oil in the Gulf of Mexico. They
said in a joint statement that they looked forward to
implementation of the deal.
The United States has yet to finalize the deal, known as the
Transboundary Hydrocarbons Agreement, which provides guidelines
for drilling in an area of the Gulf that straddles the
The deal is seen as the key to opening a new era of
cooperation on oil production between the two countries.
Mexico's state-owned oil company Pemex needs
technology and investment to boost its stagnant production, and
U.S. companies are eager to help.