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Politics

Obama pledges better relations to Mexico's Calderon

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Barack Obama, who takes over as U.S. President on January 20, told Mexican President Felipe Calderon on Monday he would work to strengthen U.S. ties with Mexico, especially in the field of energy.

President-elect Barack Obama listens as Mexico's President Felipe Calderon speaks at the Mexican Cultural Institute in Washington, January 12, 2009. REUTERS/Larry Downing

Obama has promised to nurture close ties with the U.S. southern neighbor and other Latin American countries, which complained of neglect by the United States after President George W. Bush’s foreign policy focused heavily on Iraq.

“My message today is that my administration is going to be ready on Day One to work to build a stronger relationship with Mexico,” Obama said after visiting with Calderon over a lunch of tortilla soup and other Mexican dishes.

It was Obama’s first meeting with a foreign leader since his November election.

“The friendship between the United States and Mexico has been strong. I believe it can be even stronger and that’s going to be the commitment of my administration,” the president-elect told reporters.

“This will be the beginning of an extraordinary age in the relationship between the United States and Mexico,” Calderon said.

Calderon said both governments needed to combine forces to fight organized crime. “The more secure Mexico is, the more secure (the) U.S. will be,” he said.

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With Mexico’s drug violence exploding and amid fears that Obama might seek changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement, Calderon had been eager for a meeting with the incoming U.S. president.

OBAMA PRAISED CALDERON

Obama praised Calderon for his work on energy and climate change, saying the two countries should expand their efforts in those areas, while building on existing commercial, security and cultural ties.

“The prospects of us working together on energy strategies across borders is going to be critically important,” he said. Obama said the two also discussed immigration, border security, and the global financial crisis.

Mexico, which sends 80 percent of its exports to the United States, is suffering a spillover from the U.S. economy’s woes, as layoffs at Mexican factories mount and families with relatives in the United States see a decline in remittances.

Obama aides said the Calderon meeting was part of a long tradition of U.S. presidents meeting with the Mexican leader before their inauguration.

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Calderon plans to meet Bush on Tuesday.

One of Calderon’s priorities was to press Obama to follow through on a U.S. aid program launched by Bush in 2007 to help Mexico combat the drug trade. The Mexican president is battling drug traffickers blamed for killing 5,650 people last year.

Calderon is also concerned about Obama’s campaign promise to renegotiate North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada. The deal has greatly expanded Mexican trade with its powerful neighbor since it went into effect in 1994 but is seen by U.S. unions as a cause of job losses in big industrial states like Ohio.

Calderon told international business leaders at a summit meeting in November that restricting trade would only drive more Mexicans to move illegally to the United States.

Obama did not mention NAFTA in his remarks to journalists and took no questions.

Editing by David Storey

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