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Published:March 20th, 2010 13:17 EST
robert gates

Gates, Mullen to Join U.S. Delegation to Mexico

By SOP newswire3

Gates, Mullen to Join U.S. Delegation to Mexico

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 19, 2010 " Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will travel to Mexico City next week as part of a U.S. delegation focused on helping the Mexican government fight drug-trafficking cartels and other security threats.

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Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will lead the delegation to the March 23 Merida U.S.-Mexico High Level Consultative Group meeting, State Department officials announced.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet A. Napolitano, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair and other top-level U.S. government officials also will participate in talks expected to be dominated by ways to strengthen the Merida Initiative.

The initiative provides a framework for the United States to provide Mexico equipment, training and technical expertise to support its crackdown on drugs, trafficking and corruption. Among other capabilities, it provides helicopters and surveillance aircraft to support the Mexican military`s drug-interdiction activities.

Although the Merida Initiative initially was planned as a three-year program, it`s clear now to us that our governments should work together on a continuing basis, because that work is not done, " acting deputy State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid told reporters earlier this week.

Next week`s visit will build on the last high-level consultative group session, when Clinton and Mexican Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa discussed ways to evolve Merida Initiative in December 2008. Those talks focused on breaking the power of drug-trafficking organizations, improving border security and strengthening the rule of law, as well as democratic institutions and human rights.

Gates last visited Mexico City in April 2008, when he became the first defense secretary to visit Mexico in 12 years.

The secretary emphasized during that visit that helping Mexico ultimately helps the United States. It is in our interest that our friends have greater capabilities to protect their own security and to take care of transnational criminal activity such as the drug cartels, " he said. It is in our interest, because we have [a] shared interest to enhance the capabilities of the Mexican armed forces. "

Gates called the effort a move forward in strengthening the still relatively young " U.S.-Mexican military relationship in a way that respects Mexico`s sovereignty and recognizes Mexican sensitivities. I would say that the relationship is limited, but both sides are looking for opportunities where we can cautiously grow it, " he said.

More educational exchanges and expanded information sharing are two potential growth areas Gates said he and the Mexican leaders discussed. We just have to take it a step at a time and explore what the opportunities are for expanded cooperation, " he said.

Mullen visited Mexico City in March 2009, when he praised Mexican leaders for their firm stand against drug cartels and the destruction they bring.

From my perspective, we have shared responsibilities for the cause and shared responsibilities for the solutions, " he told his hosts. How we work those shared responsibilities is very important. "

More intelligence sharing and more intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support, as well as a stronger military-to-military relationship, could improve the Mexican military`s capabilities for the challenges they face, he noted as he returned to Washington.

Mullen emphasized during that trip that other U.S. agencies, including the State and Homeland Security departments and the Drug Enforcement Agency, play important roles in supporting Mexico. There are fairly far-reaching areas of cooperation, " he said. These are very much ongoing. "