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Obama to discuss drug violence in Mexico visit next month

MEXICO CITY (AFP) — US President Barack Obama will visit Mexico next month amid mounting US concern over Mexican drug cartel violence that is spilling over its southern border, officials said Wednesday.

The announcement came a day after a US general said the United States was considering sending troops or anti-narcotics agents to the border, and a week before a two-day visit here by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

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It also came as Mexico published a list of nearly 90 US products on which it plans to place tariffs -- from cherries to Christmas trees -- in a potentially embarrassing first trade dispute for Obama.

The US leader already met Mexican President Felipe Calderon eight days before taking office in January, and the second meeting will take place on April 16-17 before both leaders travel to an Americas summit in Trinidad.

The meeting "will give continuity to dialogue established during a meeting last January 12 in Washington when they agreed to promote a strategic association between both countries," Mexican presidency spokesman Maximiliano Cortazar told journalists here.

The White House said in a statement that Obama and Calderon would discuss how the the two countries can work together to support Mexico's fight against drug-related violence and work toward comprehensive immigration reform, a key concern for the estimated 12 million Mexicans living in the United States.

The mounting drug violence, mainly in northwest border areas has come to be regarded as a national security threat by the United States, engaging the attention of the top US military officer.

Obama said last week the government was considering deploying the National Guard to the border to prevent spillover from drug-related attacks which claimed more than 5,300 lives in Mexico in 2008 and already more than 1,000 this year.

Calderon has made the crackdown on drug cartels, involving the deployment of some 40,000 troops across the country, a major mission of his presidency.

But fighting among powerful, internationally-connected cartels and their splinter groups over key trafficking routes into the United States has so far failed to diminish.

The violence prompted the US State Department in February to caution US college students planning to take their annual spring break vacations in Mexico's border territories.

Mexico, meanwhile, announced Monday that it would place tariffs on nearly 90 US products after Washington canceled a program that allowed some trucks from Mexico to operate in the United States.

Economy Minister Gerardo Ruiz Mateos said the increase would represent some 2.4 billion dollars, and that the US Senate decision to cancel the program violated the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Latin America's second biggest economy depends on the United States for 80 percent of its exports and most of its remittances, its second-largest source of foreign income after oil exports.

The US economic slowdown, as well as stricter security on the US-Mexico border and increased deportations, is blamed for a 3.6 percent drop in Mexico's remittances in 2008 to 25.1 billion dollars.

Published Wednesday, March 18, 2009 3:31 PM by Zinnia Q.

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