- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 24, 2010

MEXICO CITY | A cast of senior U.S. security officials pledged long-term support for Mexico’s drug war while acknowledging Tuesday that an insatiable U.S. appetite for illegal narcotics is at the core of the problem.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who led the U.S. delegation, told the meeting that the drug cartels responsible for increasing violence in the border region are fighting not just Mexican military and law-enforcement forces but also the United States.

“There is no question that they are fighting against both of our governments,” she said, according to a copy of her closed-door remarks. “Tragically, that fact was underscored on March 13th,” with the killings of two Americans and a Mexican affiliated with the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez, Mrs. Clinton said.

Mrs. Clinton pledged U.S. efforts with Mexico and at home to reduce demand for drugs in the United States and the flow of guns and drug proceeds to Mexico.

U.S. officials see a strategic problem with their neighbor’s surging violence and unstable judicial and law-enforcement systems. Mexican officials blame that instability on the insatiable U.S. demand for lucrative and illegal narcotics.

The U.S. has sent helicopters, X-ray vans and sniffer dogs to help Mexico tackle drug cartels, but Mexican leaders attending the one-day session with the visiting U.S. officials say that to really help, the Americans must tackle their problem of drug consumption.

Both Presidents Obama and Felipe Calderon have repeatedly stressed that theirs is a “cooperative effort” to disrupt Mexico’s powerful drug cartels, whose power struggles with each other and authorities have led to the killings of 17,900 people since Mr. Calderon took office in late 2006.

Attending with Mrs. Clinton were Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair and John Brennan, counterterrorism and homeland security adviser to the president. Senior officials from the departments of Justice and Treasury also participated, along with officials from the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

The Mexican delegation was led by Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa.

Mexico’s legislative leaders were sensitive to any implications Mr. Calderon might cede authority to the U.S. in their efforts to disrupt the drug cartels.

“We hope that they will act with dignity, and this implies accepting cooperation, but never an attitude of submission. Collaboration, yes, but submission and subordination of our government, never,” said Alejandro Encinas Rodriguez, coordinator of Mexico’s leftist Democratic Revolution Party (PRD).

Ms. Napolitano said Mr. Calderon made the right decision to use military force against the drug organizations, but in the U.S. view it will take a broader effort, to include more civilian law-enforcement agencies and deeper U.S. assistance, to prevail in the long run.

As a reminder of the scope of the problem of drug-related violence, Mexican authorities arranged outside Tuesday’s meeting room a table full of weapons that had been smuggled through the U.S. and confiscated from drug cartels in Mexico. They included dozens of pistols and automatic rifles, including gold-plated AK-47s.

To improve cooperation and coordination between Washington and Mexico City, the Bush administration in 2008 promised $1.3 billion in aid under a regional plan known as the Merida Initiative. But with just $128 million delivered so far, Tuesday’s meeting was designed to discuss ways to refocus some of that spending in more effective ways. The administration’s 2011 budget request includes about $330 million for Merida projects.

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