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.
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.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)