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Blinken tries to revive strained US-Mexico relations in negotiations for a new security deal

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a press briefing with Mathias Cormann, Secretary General of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, at the OECD Ministerial Council meeting in Paris, France, October 6, 2021. Ian Langsdon / Pool via REUTERS

MEXICO CITY, Oct. 8 (Reuters) – US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, during a visit to Mexico, will attempt to restore frayed ties between neighbors on Friday, which is crafting a major new security cooperation agreement and are struggling with how to deal with a spike in immigration.

The senior US diplomat will meet with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador at a time when the Biden administration increasingly relies on Mexico to stem the flow of Latin American migrants heading to the United States.

Blinken’s visit is part of the Biden administration’s first high-level US-Mexico security dialogue, in which the two countries will negotiate a sweeping new deal on how to tackle everything from drug flows to the United States. United to smuggle American-made weapons into Mexico.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said Thursday that Washington was looking for ways to “reinvigorate security cooperation.”

“It will really be one of the central elements of the discussions,” he added.

Blinken, who is also due to meet Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard, will be accompanied by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and US Attorney General Merrick Garland.

US-Mexican relations took a heavy blow last October when US anti-narcotics agents arrested former Mexican Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos, outraging the Mexican government. Cienfuegos was released, but the detention strained relations and undermined security cooperation.

U.S. officials tout the new security accord as being broader than the previous agreement, the Merida Initiative, under which the United States funneled about $ 3.3 billion to help Mexico fight crime .

Launched in 2007, the Merida Initiative initially provided military materiel to Mexican forces and then helped train the Mexican security forces and justice system. But Lopez Obrador has sharply criticized the program, saying it was tainted by its association with previous governments and for funding security equipment in the 2000s.

Mexican officials say the new deal is likely to focus on information exchange, the root causes of the violence and stopping the flow of US-made weapons to Mexico, a matter of major concern to Lopez Obrador. Read more

But negotiating a new deal will be painful. The United States wants a more muscular approach to fighting drug cartels while Lopez Obrador prefers softer, less confrontational methods to gangs, said Vanda Felbab-Brown, security and foreign policy analyst.

“There is a minimal area of ​​overlap,” said Felbab-Brown, senior research fellow in the foreign policy program at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. “The United States is in a delicate position here because the Lopez Obrador administration is very comfortable with the end of security cooperation.”

What’s more, discussions about the new security cooperation can be overshadowed by immigration concerns.

An increase in the number of Haitian and Latin American migrants arriving at the US-Mexico border plunged the Biden administration into another crisis last month and underscored Washington’s dependence on Mexico to help stem the flow. .

Mexico’s importance in managing immigration has given the Lopez Obrador administration leverage to pursue more independent policies in other areas, Mexican officials have said privately.

During the U.S. presidential transition earlier this year, Mexico made it more difficult for U.S. law enforcement officials to operate in the country. Mexico has also delayed visas for US anti-narcotics officers, US media reported.

A senior Mexican security official said there was optimism about the new deal on the Mexican side and that it might be possible to revisit restrictions on US agents operating on Mexican soil, but conditions do not cannot return to what they were before Cienfuegos’ arrest.

“I think part of the US government knows that is not possible,” the Mexican official said.

Reporting by Drazen Jorgic Additional reporting by Simon Lewis Editing by Leslie Adler

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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