Obama to meet with Mexico's Calderon on Monday
By Caren Bohan and Tomas Sarmiento
Thu Jan 8, 2009 7:34pm EST
WASHINGTON/MEXICO CITY, Jan 8 (Reuters) – U.S. President-elect Barack Obama and Mexican President Felipe Calderon will meet on Monday for talks likely to address tough issues like Mexico's drug war and the NAFTA trade agreement.
Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa on Thursday said the two would meet at noon (1700 GMT) in Washington.
Calderon, a conservative in power since the end of 2006, hopes to discuss security, immigration issues and the economy with Obama, Espinosa told a news conference in Mexico City.
Specifically, Calderon is expected to want to talk about his battle against drug traffickers who killed 5,650 people in Mexico last year and the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Calderon and business leaders are concerned about Obama's campaign promise to renegotiate NAFTA with Mexico and Canada, which has boosted Mexican trade with its powerful neighbor since it went into effect in 1994.
The Obama-Calderon meeting is in keeping with a tradition of U.S. presidents meeting with the Mexican leader prior to being sworn in to underscore the important relationship between the United States and Mexico, Obama's transition office said in a statement.
Weeks prior to his inauguration in January 1993, former President Bill Clinton met with Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari.
In August 2000, President George W. Bush met with Vicente Fox, who was then Mexico's president-elect. The meeting was in Dallas and Bush was then governor of Texas and a presidential candidate.
Obama, who was elected in November and takes over from Bush on Jan. 20, has generally avoided weighing in publicly on foreign affairs during his transition, citing the principle that there is only one U.S. president at a time.
Leaders from Mexico and Canada, the two closest U.S. neighbors, are typically the earliest to hold meetings with new U.S. presidents.
Many in Mexico see Obama's election as a chance to restore good relations after Bush focused on the Middle East and failed to deliver a promised accord with Mexico on immigration.
“Mexico has been seeking a migration accord for years that would give legal status to the millions of Mexicans living illegally in the country,” Espinosa said.
The nearly 2,000-mile (3,200-km) border with Mexico is the main entry point for illegal immigrants into the United States, which is already home to 11 million to 12 million undocumented aliens, or one in every 20 workers in the country.
The United States has begun construction on a 670-mile (1,070-km) border fence that will eventually stretch from California to Texas. It is designed to stem the tide of illegal immigrants.
Mexican relations with Washington have been frayed since Mexico opted not to support the U.S.-led war in Iraq, and Mexico has been piqued by Washington's reluctance to deliver drug war aid without assurances that human rights will be respected.
Espinosa said it was vital to push ahead with a $1.4 billion drug aid package pledged by Bush in early 2007. So far nearly $300 million of aid has been freed up, but the first equipment is unlikely to arrive until late this year.
(Additional reporting by Catherine Bremer and Michael O'Boyle in Mexico City, and JoAnne Allen in Washington; Editing by Xavier Briand)