- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 9, 2009

President Obama’s call for the Senate to ratify a hemispheric small-firearms treaty dominated his last visit to Mexico, but in the four months since, both the treaty pledge and the drug violence that prompted it have dropped off the radar - a victim of Congress’ full schedule and gun politics.

That means on Sunday Mr. Obama will go with an empty hand to Mexico, which blames the U.S. for many of the weapons used by drug cartels that have violently thwarted a crackdown by Mexican authorities.

And even though Mr. Obama and his administration have accepted that blame, prospects are dim for passage of the treaty, which calls on countries to license gun manufacturers and try to control illicit trafficking in firearms, ammunition and explosives.

The chief U.S. negotiator for the 1997 treaty, known by its Spanish acronym of CIFTA, says it was written specifically to avoid forcing the U.S. to change its laws, and says it does not give any other country a say over what is legal or illegal in the U.S. - and that gun-rights groups were even involved in writing parts of the treaty.

But the National Rifle Association now claims CIFTA could hurt hunters and says U.S. Second Amendment interests should not be controlled by an international treaty. Key senators such as Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat whose gun-rights credentials may be crucial to his winning re-election next year, was cool to Mr. Obama’s call for ratification in April, and a spokesman said nothing has changed since.

“We must work with Mexico to curtail the violence and drug trafficking on America’s southern border, and must protect Americans’ Second Amendment rights,” Mr. Reid said in April. “I look forward to working with the president to ensure we do both in a responsible way.”

Treaties require a two-thirds vote by the Senate to be ratified - probably an impossible goal, given opposition from both sides of the aisle.

Chris W. Cox, the National Rifle Association’s chief lobbyist, would not give a tally, but said that “there are a number of both Republicans and Democrats who share our concerns about the potential for abuse should this treaty be ratified.”

On his two-day trip, Mr. Obama is expected to meet first with Mexican President Felipe Calderon - both men will then meet with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The White House says that talking, even without having any tangible “deliverables” to show for it, is important.

“We will see more of these dialogues in the future and at a relatively frequent pace,” National Security Adviser James L. Jones, a retired Marine general, told reporters in previewing the trip. “From that, I think good things will come.”

Both Mexican and Canadian officials bring to the meeting concerns that the U.S. is moving away from free trade.

Canada is worried about buy-American provisions in the economic stimulus spending bill, and Mexico has imposed retaliatory measures in response to Congress’ halting a program to allow Mexican trucks on U.S. highways. The program is part of U.S. trade obligations.

For its part, the U.S. is eager to discuss coordination on swine flu precautions and combating global warming.

Still, the issue of drug-cartel violence along the U.S.-Mexico border, which dominated the springtime meeting in Mexico City between Mr. Obama and Mr. Calderon, will be a hot topic yet again.

Mr. Obama hopes to continue the flow of U.S. aid to combat drug trafficking, known as the Merida Initiative, which began under President George W. Bush, but that hit a snag last week.

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