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Press Conference with Presidents Obama and Calderon

The White House - April 16, 2009

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FELIPE CALDERON, PRESIDENT OF MEXICO (through translator): Ladies and gentlemen of the press, of the media, I would like to give the warmest welcome to Mexico to President Barack Obama and to the delegation accompanying him. This is an historic event that will inaugurate a new era -- a new relationship between our two countries.

Today, in the meetings that we have held, we have confirmed the determination of both governments to consolidate the very, very close contacted links that join and bring together Mexico and the United States.

We have new projects in important affairs such as security, migration, cooperativeness and global affairs.

As never before, we have decided that the fight against multinational organized crimes must be based on cooperation, shared responsibility and trust -- and mutual trust.

Both governments recognize that the Merida Initiative is a very good starting point in order to strengthen cooperation and security. But we want to go beyond. We want to go further in order to liberate, to free our societies from the criminal activities that affect the lives of millions of people.

We have also agreed to expedite the times so that we can have available the resources for this Merida Initiative. And we have also decided to launch other activities that are in the hands of our government. For example, we can adopt new measures for preventing illicit flows at the border, particularly the flow of weapons and of cash. We will also be strengthening our cooperation in information intelligence in order to more efficiently fight against money laundering. On the other hand, we have also agreed that both governments should produce a proposition, proposal, for our cooperation so that we can eventually have reform in the United States with full respect to the sovereign decisions of both congresses, of both nations, that is. Our governments will work in the sense to make migration, migration, an orderly, respectful process of human rights.

A process in which human rights will be respected. In energy and climate change, we have agreed to work together in order to guarantee a legal framework of certainty, transparency for the future better use of cross border resources such as gas and energy. I have given to President Obama, concrete proposals on climate change. One of them has to do with the integration of a bilateral market of carbon emissions which coincides with proposals that he has made to his west audience. And other ways of cooperation in climate change such as something that Mexico has proposed called the green fund.

We have also said that in addition to discussing our goals for carbon emissions that are linked in the fight against climate change globally, we must also act very soon in the design of new instruments, of new tools, in order to fight against climate change. That is really the central proposal of the green fund. And in a gesture of recognition of acknowledgment on this topic, we know that President Obama and his government have made considerable efforts to provide new arguments to the discussion of this topic.

We would also like to thank, to welcome the possibility that Mexico might be the seat of the 16th U.N. conference on climate change that will be taking place in 2010. We have recognized and acknowledged, ladies and gentlemen, that Mexico and the United States do not have to compete among themselves, but rather they must be able to take advantage of the complimentary nature of their economies, in order to compete as partners with regard to other parts of the world. We have the chance to make our region more competitive and to have greater, more agile productions. We will be working in three areas, first on the strengthening of the border infrastructure.

I have also given to President Obama, a proposal to facilitate the economic flows between both countries, to improve the quality of life of the residents in the border areas and to foster the development of our two nations, two very specific projects on infrastructure at the Mexico-U.S. border. Secondly, we believe it is essential to increase our cooperation in customs so that we can have a more efficient trade and thirdly, we have also proposed to improve our cooperation in regulatory matters regarding tariffs or non-tariff issues that very often make difficult our trade between two countries.

We have agreed with President Obama that we seek agreements to truly improve the economic situation, not only of the United States, but of the entire region and the world. We have stated our cooperation to strengthen the democracy of the market and of regional security. In relation to President Obama's recent security to lift the restrictions for people from the U.S. to travel to Cuba and to be able to send remittances, Mexico acknowledges that this is a very constructive positive step for the hemispheric relations, particularly for the region.

And finally my friends, ladies and gentlemen, I want to tell you that I am absolutely convinced that President Obama's visit is just an initial step, the beginning of a relationship between two countries that are friends, neighbors and must also be partners and allies. Thank you so much, thank you so much, President Obama, for your visit. The President Barack Obama now has the floor.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESDIENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is my first trip to Mexico as president. And I see this visit as, I know President Calderon does, as an opportunity to launch a new era of cooperation and partnership between our two countries. An era built on an even firmer foundation of mutual responsibility and mutual respect and mutual interest. We had a productive and wide-ranging conversation and I think we have taken some very important steps down that path. It's difficult to overstate the depth of the ties between our two nations or the extraordinary importance of our relationship.

It's obviously a simple fact of geography that we share a border and we've always been bound together because of that geography. But it's not just that shared border that links us together. It's not only geography, but it's also culture. It's also that migration patterns that have taken place that have become so important. Our deep, economic ties mean that whatever steps that we're going to take moving forward, have to be taken together. That's why we've worked hard, hand in hand at the G-20 summit and that's what we will continue to do at the summit of the Americas and beyond. So that we can jump- start job creation, promote free and fair trade and develop a coordinated response to this economic crisis.

We also discussed our shared interest in meeting an immigration challenge that has serious implications for both the United States and for Mexico. My country has been greatly enriched by migration from Mexico. Mexican Americans form a critical and enduring link between our nations and I am committed to fixing our broken immigration system in a way that upholds our traditions as a nation of laws but also as a nation of immigrants. I'm committed to working with President Calderon to promote the kind of bottom up economic growth here in Mexico that will allow people to live out their dreams here and as a consequence will relieve some of the pressures that we've seen along the borders.

We also discussed what our nations can do to help bring a clean energy future to both countries. This is a priority for the United States, I know it's a priority for President Calderon and I want to commend him for the work that he's already done in cutting greenhouse gas emissions, the commitment that he's made even though Mexico's not required to do so under the Quito protocol. Together, we're establishing a new, bilateral framework on clean energy that will focus on creating green jobs, promoting renewable energy and enhancing energy efficiency. I look forward to strengthening our partnership in the upcoming major economies forum on energy and climate and in next year's U.N. climate negotiations, which I hope will be held here in Mexico.

Now, as essential as it is that we work together to overcome each of these common challenges, there's one particular area that requires our urgent coordinated action and that is the battle that's taking place with respect to the drug cartels that are fuelling kidnappings, ensuing chaos in our communities and robbing so many of a future both here in Mexico and the United States. I have said this before I will repeat it, I have the greatest admiration and courage for President Calderon and his entire cabinet, his rank and file police officers and soldiers as they take on these cartels.

I commend Mexico for the successes that have already been achieved, but I will not pretend that this is Mexico's responsibility alone. A demand for these drugs in the United States is what is helping to keep these cartels in business. This war is being waged with guns purchased not here, but in the United States. More than 90 percent of the guns recovered in Mexico come from the United States. Many from gun shops that line our shared border. So we have responsibilities as well. We have to do our part. We have to crack down on drug use in our cities and towns. We have to stem the southbound flow of guns and cash.

And we are absolutely committed to working in a partnership with Mexico to make sure that we are dealing with this scourge on both sides of the border. That's why we're ramping up the number of law enforcement personnel on our border. That's why for the first time we are inspecting trains leaving our country, not just those entering. That's why the department of homeland security is making up to $59 million available to defend our common border from this threat to both of our countries.

Now as we discussed in our meeting, destroying and disrupting the cartels will require more than aggressive efforts from each of our nations. And that's why the United States is taking the following steps. We've begun to accelerate efforts to implement the (INAUDIBLE) initiative, so we can provide Mexico with the military aircraft and inspection equipment they need when they need it. Yesterday, I designated three cartels as significant foreign narcotics drug traffickers under U.S. law, clearing the way for our treasury department working together with Mexico, to freeze their assets and subject them to sanctions. My national homeland security adviser who is here, General Jim Jones, as well as my homeland security secretary Janet Napolitano and my top adviser on homeland security and counterterrorism, John Brennan, are all meeting with their Mexican counterparts to develop new ways to cooperate and coordinate their efforts more effectively.

In addition, as President Calderon and I discussed, I'm urging the senate in the United States to ratify an inter American treaty known as SIFTA, to curb small arms tracking that is a source of so many of the weapons used in this drug war. There are some common challenges that President Calderon and I discussed in our meeting and that we're going to be working on to overcome in the months and years ahead. It will not be easy, but I am confident that if we continue to act as we have today in the spirit of mutual responsibility and friendship. We will prevail on behalf of our common security and our common prosperity, so I think that this is building on previous meetings that we've had. In each interaction, the bond between our governments is growing stronger. I am confident that we're going to make tremendous progress in the future. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you, Mr. President as well. President Obama, as a candidate for your office, you said that you wanted to see the ban on assault weapons reinstated. Your attorney general has spoken in favor of this. Mexican officials have also spoken in favor of it, but we haven't heard you say that since you took office. Do you plan to keep your promise and if not, how do you explain that to the American people? President Calderon, sorry if I may, would you like to see this ban reinstated and have you raised that today with President Obama? Thank you.

OBAMA: First of all, we did discuss this extensively in our meetings. I have not backed off at all from my belief that the assault weapons ban made sense and I continue to believe that we can respect and honor the second amendment rights in our constitution, the rights of sportsmen and hunters and homeowners who want to keep their families safe, to lawfully bear arms, while dealing with assault weapons that as we now know here in Mexico, are helping to fuel extraordinary violence. Violence in our own country as well.

Now, having said that, I think none of us are under any illusion that reinstating that ban would be easy, so what we've focused on is how we can improve our enforcement of existing laws. Because even under current law, trafficking, illegal firearms, sending them across the border, is illegal. That's something that we can stop. So our focus is to work with Secretary Napolitano, Attorney General Holder, our entire homeland security team, ATF, border security, everybody who's involved in this, to coordinate with our counterparts in Mexico to significantly ramp up our enforcement of existing laws.

In fact, I've asked Eric Holder to do a complete review of how our enforcement operations are currently working and make sure that we're cutting down on the loopholes that are resulting in some of these drug trafficking problems. Last point I would make is that there are going to be some opportunities where I think we can build some strong consensus. I'll give you one example and that is the issue of gun tracing. The tracing of bullets and ballistics and gun information that have been used in major crimes.

That's information that we are still not giving to law enforcement as a consequence of provisions that have been blocked in the United States congress and those are the areas where I think that we can make some significant progress early. That doesn't mean that we're steering away from the issue of the assault guns ban, but it does mean that we want to act with urgency, promptly, now. And I think we can make significant progress.

CALDERON (through translator): I want to say that in effect on this topic, not only on this topic but on many other thorny topics of relations between the U.S. and Mexico, we have had an open, frank, trusting conversation between President Obama and myself we have spoken of assault weapons. He is well aware of our problems and we have described it as it is from the moment that the prohibition on the sell of assault weapons a few years ago, we have seen an increase in the power of organized crime in Mexico. Only in my administration, in the two years and four months, we have been able to see, or rather, we have seized more than 16,000 assault weapons.

And in the efforts we have made to track their origin and President Obama has referred to that, we have seen that nearly 90 percent of those arms come from the United States. Those weapons come from the United States are about 10,000 sales points in the U.S.- Mexico border. Only at the border. On the other hand, I do believe that our relationship, the new era we must build in our relationship between Mexico and the United States must be one with trust and respect. And we definitely respect the decision of the U.S. congress and of the U.S. people in this regard because they are very well aware of President Obama and his government's willingness to move forward on these issues. We know that it is a politically delicate topic because Americans truly appreciate their constitutional rights and particularly those that are part of the second amendment.

I personally believe that as long as we are able to explain clearly what our problems in Mexico are, then we might also be able to seek a solution that -- respecting the constitutional rights of the Americans, at the same time will prevent or rather avoid that organized crimes become better armed in our country. But we have to work on it, we have to work on it. But we fully respect the opinion of the U.S. congress and we know that there's a great deal of sensitivity regarding this topic, but there are many, many things that we can definitely move forward. For example, in armament, it is not only a matter of seeing whether you can change the legislation on assault weapons. We have already said what our position is, but we might also be able to see whether they can apply existing legislation in Mexico and the United States on armament.

For example, in Mexico, it's a matter of enforcement with the export control act for example, this is in the United States, I'm sorry, prohibits the export of weapons to those countries where those weapons are prohibited. That is the case of Mexico. If we actually comply with the U.S. law or rather if everybody complies with the U.S. law that prohibits the sale of these weapons and their export to Mexico, we can move a great deal forward. President Obama has made recent decisions in the last few weeks and we value them and appreciate them. For example, to reinforce the operational capability of U.S. border agencies in order to comply with this legislation and with other laws, in order to review the flows of entry, not only into the United States, but also, the outgoing flows, outgoing from the U.S. to make sure that there is no illicit money and strict compliance with U.S. legislation. I think these are very important steps.

But there is a problem and only as we build on these trusts and we've clearly explained to citizens of both countries how we must find a solution, we will be able to achieve. When we do so, respectfully, presenting our position, knowing full well how the U.S. people feel about this and being fully respectful of the sovereign positions that the United States might make, or that any other country might make. One more thing, one more thing I forgot to mention. One other thing we can do is to track the weapons that we have in Mexico.

If we manage to detect weapons sold illegally in the United States, in violation of this law on the control of weapons exports or if in the United States they can have -- probably move forward on a good registry of armament or on the prohibition of certain massive sales of weapons, for example, to a hunter or to a common citizen, we know that these people do not usually buy hundreds of rifles or assault weapons or of grenades, if we can move forward in those areas, I do believe that security, both of Mexico and -- both of the United States and Mexico will improve, because those weapons are pointing against Mexican people and Mexican officials today.

But crime is not only acting in Mexico. It is also acting in the United States, organized crime is acting in both countries. And I do hope that those weapons that are sold today in the United States and are being used in Mexico, I hope the day will never come in which they will also be used against the north American society or against U.S. officials, just like they are now being used in Mexico.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Good afternoon, presidents. You are going to share four years of an administration, and there can be an in-depth change in this fight against organized crime in these four years. As of today, how can we establish the concrete objectives that in 2012 will allow us to say, fine, a new era began between Mexico and the United States back then, particularly I'm addressing this to you, President Obama? In addition to the chance that you will invest your political capital in being able to stop the flow of these weapons to Mexico, what can we hope for? How can we expect to see in terms of arresting the drug lords, the kingpins in the U.S.? Because there are laws against corruption, but this is enabling now -- in other words, the U.S. market is now the biggest for drugs. And a former president of Mexico, ex-president Fox, said that in the past they have only gotten little pats on the back from his predecessors. Can we hope for more from your administration? And to you, President Calderon, with this new era, how can you measure the detention, the arrest of drug lords in the United States and also putting a stop to the flow of weapons? How can you measure this?

OBAMA: I think that we can measure this in terms of the reduction in violence, in the interdiction of drugs, in the interdiction of weapons coming south, in the dismantling of the financial structures that facilitate these drug cartels, in the arrests of major drug kingpins. So, I think we know how to measure progress. You know, the challenge is maintaining a sustained effort. And as I said, something that President Calderon and myself absolutely recognize is that you can't fight this war with just one hand. You can't just have Mexico making an effort, but the United States not making an effort. And the same is true on the other side.

I think both our efforts have to be coordinated. Both of our efforts have to be strengthened. I've made some very concrete commitments already sending additional resources, already making additional investments. These are measurable in millions, and ultimately billions of dollars over several years. And I believe that President Calderon has used enormous political capital to deal with this issue. Obviously the Mexican people, particularly along the borders, have suffered great hardship. And as a consequence, if we partner effectively -- and that's why I brought many of my top officials on this trip, to interact with their counterparts -- I'm confident that we're going to make progress.

Now, are we going to eliminate all drug flows? Are we going to eliminate all guns coming over the border? That's not a realistic objective. What is a realistic objective is to reduce it so significantly, so drastically, that it becomes, once again, a localized criminal problem as opposed to a major structural problem that threatens stability in communities along those borders. And that increases corruption and threatens the rule of law. That's the kind of progress that I think can be made. And so we're going to work as hard as we can and as diligently as we can on these issues. Always mindful, though, that the relationship between Mexico and the United States cannot just be defined by drugs.

You know, sometimes there's a tendency for the media to only report on drug interdiction or immigration when it comes to U.S./Mexican relations. And one of the things that we talked about is the extraordinary opportunities for us to work together on our commercial ties, on strengthening border infrastructure to improve the flow of goods, on working on clean energy, which can produce jobs on both sides of the border. So, we're going to stay very focused on this. We're going to make this a top priority. But we just always want to remember that our relationship is not simply defined by these problems. It's also defined by opportunities and that's what we want to take advantage of as well.

CALDERON (through translator): Thank you, president. I agree a great deal with you, and I fully thank you for your support and understanding in this very difficult topic. I think the question is very relevant. I see a big opportunity for President Obama and myself, since we are going to be sharing the next four years as heads of our administrations, I see a big opportunity here. And on this issue, what I hope to see at the end of my administration is actually many things. One is a reduction in the levels of criminal activities in our countries, related to organized crime, which is also related to drug trafficking. They go hand in hand. We have a strategy with short, mid-term, and long-term objectives.

In the short term, for example, we have set out to recuperate the security and tranquility of our citizens, particularly in those areas that have been harder hit by the crime. And this is where we have the joint operations, we're mobilizing not only our federal police but also the army. And it's regardless of the fact that it is not an easy matter. And it hasn't been, and it can change in the course of time but at least we begin to see fruitful results in some areas. For example, in the last quarter -- or rather, compared to the last quarter of last year, our first quarter of this year, there is already a drop of 27 percent in criminal activities. That is as an average for the entire country. Only in Ciudad Juarez, as of the joint operation that we launched in February, between February and March, violent deaths in Ciudad Juarez, crime related -- violence- related crime dropped by 80 percent.

Of course I understand that the spectacular nature of some of these operations has really attracted worldwide attention. But with a very difficult crime rate that we had last year, despite them, crime in Mexico was 10.7 deaths because of crime for every 100,000 inhabitants. It is less than what it is in Guatemala, El Salvador, Colombia, Venezuela or Brazil in Latin America. It is also a lower number than the crime rates of many U.S. cities. I believe one issue has to be, of course, that we have to cut down our crime in Mexico for sure, but number two, I hope in the course of time to be a safer border and a more efficient border.

As long as -- if we are able to stop the flow of drugs in this money and weapons, we will have greater progress, both in the United States and Mexico. And one way to measure this is by appreciating and valuing the technological capabilities, particularly of non intrusive detection at the border. So that for those who do want to make business and do want to trade, that the border is open. And those who want to commit crime, the border will be a closed area. One way to measure this -- and here U.S. cooperation is essential -- is to have the right technology, particularly non intrusive technology that will enable us to have safe borders. And the initiative, the Merida initiative is very much focused on this.

Now in the midterm, we would like a renewal of our police forces in Mexico. At the end of my administration, I would like to be able to have a new federal police that will be worthy of the citizens' trust and that will be efficient. And here U.S. cooperation is also fundamental. Why? Well, because on our side, we are cleaning our house. We are sweeping everything from top to bottom so that all the police officers from the top --

FELIPE CALDERON, MEXICAN PRESIDENT (through translator): And, here, U.S. cooperation is also fundamental. Why?

Well, because, on our side, we are cleaning our house. We are sweeping everything from top to bottom, so that all the police forces at the -- from the top officials at the attorney general's office, the army, the navy, that all officials in Mexico, all police officials that we can truly trust in their honesty and that at the same time technologically they will be top-notch, as the rest of the world, in investigation, in databases.

We want a scientific police, one that is very well trained in technology. And U.S. help will be very welcome. And it will be essential. We also have a no -- judicial plan for oral trials.

And I think that, as we fulfill these objectives, many of them have already -- are part of our agreement on safety, security, and protection, with a shared responsibility that we now have with President Obama and his team.

We are certain that we will reach these objectives and that our strategy, which is the correct one, will have many more possibilities of achieving success, and that, at the end of our administration, we will have a Mexico, a United States that are much safer and freer of violence -- violence-free, rather.

Of course, drug-trafficking cannot be ended by decree. As long as there is a supply, a high -- or, rather, a high demand, there will be a high supply. But what we can control is the effect of criminal activities in society, to stop the actions of organized crime.

And we can also act preventively in order to bring down the consumption of drugs in the United States and, in Mexico, too, which also begins to be a problem of great concern to us.

QUESTION: Mr. President, thank you.

Mr. President.

President Obama, you said in an op-ed that was out today that your new Cuba policy was part of an effort to move beyond the frozen disputes of the 20th century.

Why then is it so limited? Why not open the doors for all Americans to visit Cuba? And what will you say to your colleagues at the Summit of the Americas who want you to do more? And, President Calderon, what do you think the United States should do more on Cuba in order to improve relations with the region?

Thank you.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, first of all, I don't think that we should dismiss the significance of the step that we took.

We eliminated remittance restrictions and travel restrictions for Cuban-Americans who have family members in Cuba. For those families, this is extraordinarily significant. For the people in Cuba who will benefit from their family members being able to provide them help and to visit them, it's extraordinarily significant.

We took steps on telecommunications that can potentially open up greater lines of communication between Cuba and the United States. And, so, I think what you saw was a good-faith effort, a show of good faith on the part of the United States that we want to recast our relationship.

Now, a relationship that effectively has been frozen for 50 years is not going to thaw overnight. And, so, having taken the first step, I think it's very much in our interests to see whether Cuba is also ready to change. We don't expect them to change overnight. That would be unrealistic.

But we do expect that Cuba will send signals that they're interested in liberalizing in such a way that not only do U.S./Cuban relations improve, but so that the energy and creativity and initiative of the Cuban people can potentially be released.

I mean, we talk about the ban on U.S. travel to Cuba, but there's not much discussion of the ban on Cuban people traveling elsewhere and the severe restrictions that they're under.

I make that point only to suggest that there are a range of steps that could be taken on the part of the Cuban government that would start to show that they want to move beyond the patterns of the last 50 years.

I'm optimistic that progress can be made if there is a spirit that is looking forward, rather than backward. My guidepost in U.S./Cuba policy is going to be how can we encourage Cuba to be respectful of the rights of its people on political speech, political participation, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of travel.

But, as I said before, I don't expect things to change overnight. What I do insist on is that U.S./Cuban relationships are grounded with a respect, not only for the traditions of each country, but also respect for human rights and the people -- the needs of the people of Cuba.

And, so, I hope that the signal I have sent here is, is that we are not trying to be heavy-handed. We want to be open to engagement, but we're going to do so in a systematic way that keeps focus on the hardships and struggles that many Cubans are still going through.

 

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