Scott Wilson / The Washington Post – 2009-04-16 22:21:31
President Obama Backs Inter-American Arms Treaty
MEXICO CITY (April 16, 2009) — President Obama will announce in a visit here today that he will push the US Senate to ratify an inter-American arms trafficking treaty designed to curb the flow of guns and ammunition to drug cartels and other armed groups in the hemisphere.
Senior administration officials confirmed that he will make the announcement after meeting with Mexican President Felipe Calderon this afternoon. The meeting is the centerpiece of Obama’s first visit to Mexico, whose government is engaged in a broad war against heavily armed drug cartels now threatening the integrity of the state.
“The Obama administration’s commitment to seek ratification [of the treaty] is important because stemming the number of illegal firearms which flow into Latin America and the Caribbean is a high priority for the region and addresses a key hemispheric concern relating to people’s personal security and well-being,” said a senior Obama administration official.
Obama’s visit here, the first by a US president to the capital in 13 years, represents a show of support for Calderon, who two years ago became the first Mexican president to so fully deploy the army against drug cartels supplying a enormously lucrative American market.
Since then, more than 10,000 people have died in drug-related violence that is most intense along the US-Mexican border. The Bush administration won approval for a three-year, $1.4 billion counter-narcotics package for Mexico and some Central American countries in June 2008, but the military hardware has been slow in arriving.
Many of the guns used by the drug cartels travel south from the United States. Some assault rifles recovered by Mexican authorities have been traced back to US military bases.
In the days leading up to the president’s visit here, senior Obama administration officials said the government was focused on enforcing existing US laws to stop arms smuggling, although Mexican officials have called for more help.
Obama’s announcement on the treaty – formally known as the Inter-American Convention Against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives and other Related Items – will mark an additional step.
The Clinton administration signed the treaty, better known by its Spanish acronym CIFTA, after the Organization of American States adopted it in 1997. In all, 33 countries in the hemisphere have signed the treaty. The United States is one of four nations that have yet to ratify the convention, although Obama administration officials say the US government has sought to abide by the spirit of the treaty for years.
The treaty requires countries to take a number of steps to reduce the illegal manufacture and trade in guns, ammunition and explosives.
In addition to making illegal the unauthorized manufacture and exporting of firearms, the treaty calls for countries to adopt strict licensing requirements, mark firearms when they are made and imported to make them easier to trace, and establish a cooperative process for sharing information between national law-enforcement agencies investigating arms smuggling.
Advocates for the treaty have argued that the United States, even if it is trying to follow many of the convention’s requirements, is undermining its credibility by failing to ratify it. The treaty was sent to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1998, but no action has been taken since then.
US gun-rights groups participated as observers in drafting the treaty, which experts say includes language stating that it does not impinge on the US Constitution’s Second Amendment. But US advocates of the treaty say its passage bogged down in the waning days of the Clinton administration, and never emerged as a priority for the Bush administration.
Jorge Chabat, a professor of international studies at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics in Mexico City, said Obama’s advocacy for the treaty marks “an important step toward ending the permissiveness in the United States” toward arms trafficking on its border.
“Obviously there is a part of this that is symbolic,” Chabat said. “But President Obama has moved to do more against this arms trafficking from the US, and this is part of that. There is a great deal of fear behind this that the border violence will enter the United States.”
Johanna Mendelson Forman, senior associate of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said “this goes beyond symbolism.”
“It sends not only a positive message to Mexico, but also to the region that the United States wants to be a reliable partner in improving security,” she said.
Obama Backs Mexico’s War on Drugs
MEXICO CITY (April 16 2009) — US President Barack Obama has said the US is a “full partner” with Mexico in its fight against the drug cartels. Speaking in Mexico City, he said the US must stem the flow of guns across the border that is fuelling the bloodshed. Following talks with his Mexican counterpart, Felipe Calderon, Mr Obama said he would push the US Senate to ratify a small arms trafficking treaty.
The two leaders also agreed on a new partnership to fight climate change and promote green energy production. Hours before Mr Obama arrived, 15 gunmen and one soldier were killed in a shoot-out in southern Mexico, officials said.
Mexico’s defence department said soldiers on a drug patrol came under fire from gunmen in a vehicle in the remote, mountainous state of Guerrero. Mr Obama again acknowledged America’s shared responsibility for the violence which has killed more than 6,000 people over the last year.
Speaking at his welcoming ceremony, Mr Obama said the US needed to do more to help.
“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,” Mr Obama said. He said he preferred to focus on enforcing existing laws to keep US assault weapons out of Mexico, rather than trying to renew a US ban which expired in 1994.
Backtracking on a campaign pledge to reinstate the ban, Mr Obama said that doing so would be politically difficult. The Mexican leader hailed a “new era” where Mexico and the US faced challenges together.
Aside from combating the drug menace, Mr Calderon said the two leaders had agreed on a new framework on clean energy and climate change that set out a legal framework and bilateral market mechanisms for carbon emissions. He said proposals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would also be discussed.
Mexico is Mr Obama’s only stop on the way to the Summit of the Americas, being held in Trinidad and Tobago. For most Mexicans, the main concern is reviving the economy, says the BBC’s Stephen Gibbs in Mexico City.
Mexico sends 80% of its exports to the US and millions of Mexican families rely on remittances from relatives working north of the border, our correspondent says.
Relations between the US and Mexico hit a low point earlier this year when a US military report said drugs-related violence was in danger of turning Mexico into a failed state.
Over the past two years, some 8,000 people have been killed as gangs battle for control of the lucrative drug trafficking routes into the US. But President Obama’s administration has since expressed solidarity with Mr Calderon who has sent hundreds of troops to regain control of the worst-affected areas.
During a visit to Mexico City in March, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the US shared responsibility for the drugs problem. She said America’s “insatiable demand” for illegal drugs fuelled the trade and that the US had an “inability” to stop weapons from being smuggled south.
Mr Obama has sent hundreds of federal agents along with high-tech surveillance equipment and drug-sniffer dogs to help Mexico fight the cartels.
On Wednesday, the US placed three Mexican organisations on its list of suspected drug syndicates and Mr Obama also charged a senior official with stopping drugs-related violence crossing from Mexico into the US.
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