Obama backs crackdown on drug cartels

US President Barack Obama on Thursday backed Mexico's fight against drug cartels, saying the US would help stem the flow of US guns to cartels south of the border and that he would urge the US Senate to ratify a regional arms-trafficking treaty.


REUTERS - In his first trip to Latin America as U.S. president, Barack Obama pledged strong support on Thursday for the Mexican government's fight against ruthless drug cartels waging turf wars along the border.

Obama, who made his first major foray onto the international stage in Europe earlier this month, offered Mexican President Felipe Calderon a partnership in his efforts to combat drug gangs.

"At a time when the Mexican government has so courageously taken on the drug cartels that have plagued both sides of the borders. It is absolutely critical that the United States joins as a full partner in dealing with this issue," Obama said.

"Something that President Calderon and myself absolutely   recognize is that you can't fight this war with just one hand," he told reporters.

White House officials have played up the symbolism of Obama's visit to Mexico, which is struggling to contain unprecedented drug gang violence that is spilling over into the United States.

Obama told CNN's Spanish-language channel that Calderon, who has sent tens of thousands of troops and federal police to fight the drug gangs, was doing "a heroic job."

Calderon, a dour pro-business conservative and U.S. ally, says he has personally been threatened by drug gangs, whose turf battles killed some 6,300 people in Mexico last year.

Obama hopes to improve relations with Mexico and the rest of Latin America after a deterioration in relations his advisors blame on former President George W. Bush.

He is set to meet other Latin American leaders at a Summit of the Americas on Friday in Trinidad and Tobago.

Obama said he will push the Senate to ratify a treaty designed to reduce the flow of arms and ammunition to drug cartels in Latin America which supply cocaine and marijuana to users in the United States.
More drug violence

On Wednesday, 16 people died in a shootout between troops and suspected drug traffickers in southern Mexico.

Calderon told NBC's "Today" show that he was "absolutely not" losing the war on drugs.

The Obama administration is tightening security at the U.S.-Mexico border to prevent trafficking in guns from the United States to Mexican cartels and hopes to send Black Hawk helicopters to bolster Calderon's effort.

The United States and Mexico also agreed on a new partnership to fight climate change and promote environmentally friendly forms of energy production.

Obama said he hoped to fix a dispute with Mexico over a ban on Mexican trucks on U.S. highways.

The prohibition has led to a trade fight, with Mexico slapping tariffs on a long list of U.S. exports like fruits and industrial goods in retaliation.

Obama's outreach to Mexico has already included a visit by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who soothed Mexicans by acknowledging the violence there stemmed partly from Americans' "insatiable demand" for drugs.

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