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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Roundtable With Mexican Media

William J. Burns
Deputy Secretary
U.S. Embassy
Mexico City, Mexico
August 16, 2011


DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: Thank you all very much. I am very pleased to be in Mexico. I'm especially pleased to be here on my first foreign trip as Deputy Secretary of State. I think that it’s entirely fitting, given the reality that the relationship between the United States and Mexico is one of the most important relationships that the United States has any place in the world. The reasons for that are obvious. We share a continent, we share a future, and we share a responsibility to overcome the challenges facing the people of both of our nations. Today I had very productive meetings with Foreign Secretary [Patricia] Espinosa and members of your government's national security team. We discussed ways to deepen our economic partnership, to take on challenges to citizen security, and to enhance Mexico's regional and global leadership.

Let me just say a few words about each of those. First we discussed how to deepen an economic partnership that is already among the closest in the world. Wise decisions made a generation ago are bearing fruit for workers and consumers in both of our societies today. Trade has more than quadrupled in the last 20 years to reach nearly $400 billion. That's over $1 billion a day. Mexico is our second largest export market, and the United States is the top destination for Mexican exports. We also spoke about our efforts to provide security for citizens and communities on both sides of the border through the Merida Initiative. We share the responsibility to counter violence fueled by drugs. As Americans, we have to be honest about that responsibility and about the ways in which our drug consumption and the illicit flow of money and weapons across our southern border contributes to the enormous challenge that both of us face. We also have to be honest about the fact that neither of us can solve this problem alone. We have to work together. In the United States we are working to reduce the demand for drugs and halt the illicit flow of money and arms, and across Mexico we are supporting Mexican efforts to stem the flow of potential recruits for the cartels by giving young people constructive legal alternatives to activities that only devastate their communities.

Of course nobody is fighting harder for Mexican communities than the people of Mexico. We commend the efforts of those Mexican heroes who carry out operations against cartel leaders at considerable personal risk. We want to support their success. We work closely with Mexican officials to train thousands of law enforcement professionals. Aircraft we have provided will help Mexican authorities act rapidly anywhere in Mexico against drug trafficking and organized crime. And our two-way exchanges of intelligence information are helping tackle the top levels of criminal organizations. Finally, I want to acknowledge Mexico’s constructive role as a regional and global leader. Mexican leadership was instrumental in producing the successful outcome of the 2010 Climate Change Conference in Cancún. We look forward to more success when leaders address pressing economic issues at the G-20 summit in Mexico next June. For our part, I know that President Obama is looking forward to host President Calderón, with whom he's already met six times, at the North American Leaders Summit in Hawaii in November. This is a very wide-ranging relationship of enormous consequence, on both sides of the border. I look forward in my new position to doing all that I can to strengthen that relationship. I'm happy to be here and very glad to take your questions.

QUESTION: [In Spanish] Thank you. Good afternoon. I want to touch on a topic we insist upon a lot in Mexico: security and the recent revelations regarding the U.S.-Mexico cooperation. The question is about the personnel, U.S. personnel in Mexico, deployed to support training. It is clear to us, because, U.S. officials in Mexico have made it clear, that there are no operational personnel in Mexico. But how is this real agreement between the U.S. and Mexico, because the exchange and the personnel coming from the U.S. to support Mexican authorities in intelligence in training has increased. Can you talk about this agreement? Can you go deeper into it? On the topic of migration, the two administrations are practically over, President Calderon’s administration and the first Obama administration (we’ll have to see what happens). We have not seen a clear strategy with regards to migration that favors Mexico. You have just taken up your position, how are you planning on taking on the subject, if it is still on the table?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: First on the issue of immigration. Last May President Obama made very clear the strong American commitment to comprehensive immigration reform. It's deeply in the interest of the United States, and we know it’s of enormous concern to Mexico, and the President made clear his personal determination to move ahead on such reform. On the wider question of security, I would make the following points. As I said before, we recognize that we share responsibility for this problem, and we share responsibility for making progress toward a solution. We greatly admire the courageous efforts that Mexicans are making to fight against the cartels and narco-violence. We want to do everything we can to help. We fully respect Mexico’s sovereignty. Our job, as President Obama stressed, is to help: to help with information, and to make that a genuine two-way street where we work together in partnership, to help with equipment, to help with training, to help in building the capacity of Mexican law enforcement agencies. But what we do not do is conduct operations, and what we do not do is engage in law enforcement activities. That's a job for the Mexican authorities.

QUESTION: [In Spanish] Thank you. Good afternoon, my name is Roxana Gonzalez from the daily newspaper El Financiero. I'd like to insist and forgive me for this, but in Mexico the security issue is a delicate one. Especially when people say that Congress is not taken into consideration, that things are done secretly, practically. That’s why we insist on this issue and we are interested in knowing, we know there are security concerns, but we would like to know what this training is about. We have heard about training, but nobody tells us training in what areas. And another question is what is the limit – if there is a limit – to U.S. [law enforcement] assistance towards Mexico.

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: Thank you for your question. The limit as I said is clear: we do not conduct operations. We de not engage in law enforcement activities. What we do is to help, consistent with the wishes of the Mexican authorities, in the areas that I mentioned. Equipment is one good example. The aircraft, the helicopters that we have provided contribute directly to the increased capacity of Mexican authorities to deal successfully with this threat. Surveillance and scanning equipment help promote our mutual interest in an effective 21st century border arrangement. So we take a very practical approach, but we follow the lead of the Mexican authorities and try to provide the support that they need most and that contributes most to our common cause.

QUESTION: [In Spanish] How do you do, Deputy Secretary? I am Omar Brito from Grupo Milenio. I would like to ask, continuing with this subject, two questions. I'd like to know what the basis for this cooperation is. Legally, what is the basis of this cooperation? In what agreement or treaty is it specifically authorized? And on another topic, your visit comes in a context of a difficult situation with regards to security because of what was revealed by the New York Times, and it also comes prior to the arrival of the new ambassador. So, with that in mind, I’d like to know about the status of the U.S.-Mexico relation diplomatically, considering that the previous ambassador, Carlos Pascual, left not in the best of circumstances, and with a relationship between Mexico and, perhaps not with the executive branch, but with legislators and with other political actors in the country, he didn't leave in the best position. How would you describe the current context? How would you describe the diplomatic environment that will greet the new [U.S.] ambassador [to Mexico]?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: I think ours is a very important relationship. For the United States, relations with Mexico are among the most important that we have any place in the world. I think the significance of our relationship is only going to increase in the years ahead. I think there's a great deal that both of us have to gain by working together: working together not only on the shared security problems that we've been talking about, but also in promoting competitiveness, further expansion of trade, jobs, economic opportunities -- the creation of the kind of future that the citizens of both of our countries deserve. If you look around the world today, troubles in the global economy, challenges that the United States faces in many places far away from our shores. I think it's a reminder to Americans of the importance of our own neighborhood, in particular the importance of strengthening the relationship with Mexico. I know that's the attitude that Ambassador Wayne will bring. He is a very experienced professional and a very good friend of mine, and he served for six years as the senior official responsible for economic affairs in the State Department. He’s been Ambassador in Argentina. And he’ll come fully committed to strengthening our relationship for all the reasons that I mentioned before. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not naïve. Of course we’re going to have problems. Of course we’re going to have disagreements from time to time. Of course we’re going to have challenges. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. I think what’s important for both of us to remember is what we have to gain by working together.

QUESTION: [In Spanish] The other part of the question, the legal basis…

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: The basis for our cooperation is the partnership between our two governments. It’s reflected in the Merida Initiative. It’s reflected in the commitments that our two presidents made to one another when they met last March in Washington. It’s reflected in the conclusions of the High-Level Group, later in the spring in Washington, which our two foreign ministers led. So there's a solid basis for our cooperation. And it’s based on mutual interest and mutual respect for each other's sovereignty.

QUESTION: [In Spanish] You say that you applaud the leadership of the Mexican government in this fight against drug trafficking. So my question is if four years after this fight started, the U.S. government continues to support the [GOM] strategy, and if you consider that the path the [Mexican] Government has taken is the right one.

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: I think this is an enormously difficult challenge. Progress has come at enormous cost, but I think progress has been made. And the United States is proud of the ways in which we've been able to contribute to that progress. A lot of work remains to be done. And we're determined to continue to do all we can to help.

QUESTION: [In Spanish] You have mentioned to us what the agents do not do in this cooperative relationship. These days, however, the debate -- particularly on the part of the opposition – centers around the violation of sovereignty. Tomorrow, several [GOM] officials will appear before legislators. So I would like to ask you what agents do do. I want to make it very clear for our readers exactly what the functions, the tasks are, just how far does this cooperation go, which even Mexican authorities say there is no violation of our norms. But the perception is different. I'd like to have more information to explain this to people. And on the other hand, another topic that has been controversial, that has created some tension in this the bilateral relationship, is the issue of “Fast and Furious.” I know you cannot discuss the investigation, which is in progress. However, today there is criticism regarding the three chiefs who were in charge of this operation; they have been promoted and reassigned to other offices in Washington, and it looks like they have really been rewarded. This is being criticized in Mexico. Can you comment on this, and to what degree it has impacted the relationship with Mexico in terms of trust, in terms of working together against drug trafficking.

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: Thank you, all good questions. On “Fast and Furious” -- all I can do is reemphasize what Attorney General Holder has made clear, and that it is that any illicit transfer of weapons across the border is unacceptable, and that he has requested a thorough investigation into this case. And the first question that you raised, I’ll simply repeat that there are clear limits to our role. Our role is not to conduct operations. It's not to engage in law enforcement activities, that is the role of the Mexican authorities. And that's the way it should be. What we do is to help with information and information-sharing; to help with equipment, the kinds of examples I gave before; to help with training so that personnel can efficiently use that equipment, and to help with building the capacity of Mexican law enforcement. Because that's not only deeply in the interest of Mexico, but it’s deeply in our interest as well.

QUESTION: [In Spanish] There has been a lot of talk about these agreements being the basis for spying in Mexico, that personnel coming to Mexico from the United States are spying. I'd like to know what truth there is to that, on one hand. And on the other, there is talk about a “third” bilateral office, I would like to know if that third office is going to open, when and where, and if there will be substantial changes to the Merida Initiative. Yesterday there was a statement that resources would be going straight to states and municipalities. Can you explain these issues?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: Sure. I'd be glad to address each of those good questions. Because my memory is short, I will start with the last one. I saw some of those stories. What I would emphasize is that under the Merida Initiative our two federal governments have worked and continue to work in close partnership. We've agreed that one of the most important priorities as we look ahead is to work together to help strengthen the capacity of state and local police forces. That's in many ways a natural evolution, and it's an effort that we will make in very close partnership with the Federal [Mexican] Government reflecting our shared goals and priorities. I’m working backwards to your second question, which was?

QUESTION: [In Spanish] Offices?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: The only thing that I would stress is that the Bilateral Implementation Office, which is located very close to this building, has a very straightforward purpose. And that is to ensure the most effective possible implementation under Merida of all of our joint efforts. There is no great mystery about it. It’s a very straightforward purpose. And then --

QUESTION: [In Spanish] But are there other offices, will there be additional offices?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: This is the only [Bilateral Implementation] office that I'm aware of. And then on your first question, you know, the only thing I can say is what I've said before, it’s that -- you know I can't comment on specifics on personnel. But what I can reinforce is what their role is, and what their purpose is, and it’s exactly to provide the kind of help that I described before. So I do understand that controversy… and the questions that arise. We’re not strangers to controversy in Washington sometimes, but it's important for us to be straightforward about what our goals are and what our role is. And that’s what we’ll continue to try to do. Thank you all very much. I look forward to the next visit. Thank you.

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