MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you all for joining this background briefing with senior administration officials to discuss the upcoming U.S.-Mexico High-Level Security Dialogue in Mexico City on October 8th. As a reminder, this call is being conducted on background, and the contents are embargoed until the conclusion of the call. For reporting purposes, please refer to our briefers as senior administration officials.
Today, we are joined by [Senior Administration Official One], [Senior Administration Official Two], and [Senior Administration Official Three]. We’ll begin with short remarks from each of our speakers, and then we will open up the queue for a question-and-answer session.
Let’s start with [Senior Administration Official One], please.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Good afternoon. Thank you all for joining us today as we preview the upcoming trip to Mexico City for the U.S.-Mexico High-Level Security Dialogue. Tomorrow, Secretary of State Blinken will lead a U.S. delegation to Mexico City to participate in a dialogue with our Mexican counterparts on our shared security interests. Secretary Blinken will be joined by Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, Attorney General Merrick Garland, State Department Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian Nichols, and National Security Council Senior Director for the Western Hemisphere Juan Gonzalez.
Before talking about the priorities for this trip, I want to share why we are having these discussions. Mexico is one of the United States’ closest and most important partners. More than just a border, we share deep historical economic and cultural ties. Our relationship spans nearly 200 years. We are fortunate on both sides of the border to enjoy the benefit of this unique relationship. It is incumbent upon us to preserve and expand it.
This High-Level Security Dialogue is an important opportunity for us to expand our bilateral cooperation on security issues of mutual interest. It is a critical element in the ongoing transformation of U.S.-Mexico bilateral relations, which complements the High-Level Economic Dialogue which took place on September 9th; and the ongoing close cooperation on migration, development, climate change, and a range of other issues.
The United States and Mexico recognize the need to adapt our bilateral security cooperation to address the concerns and priorities of both governments. Our security challenges are shared and so is the responsibility for resolving them. We look forward to discussions with our Mexican counterparts during this trip on an updated security framework to meet today’s challenges and ways to reinvigorate security cooperation that will be called the U.S.-Mexico Bicentennial Framework for Security, Public Health, and Safe Communities.
In addition to the High-Level Security Dialogue, Secretary Blinken will meet with President Lopez Obrador and Secretary Ebrard. We have a dynamic and deep bilateral relationship with Mexico, and we look forward to advancing our collaboration through this trip.
With that, I will turn to [Senior Administration Official Two] and then [Senior Administration Official Three] for their opening remarks. Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Thank you, [Senior Administration Official One]. I second your remarks.
Good afternoon, everyone. I want to speak a little bit more specifically about DHS’s perspective on and role in this engagement. Institutionally, DHS is excited to be joining our interagency partners for this important High-Level Security Dialogue, and Secretary Mayorkas is personally pleased to be participating alongside the Secretary of State and Attorney General. He values his relationship with his Mexican counterparts, and he always looks forward to meeting with them. In fact, this is Secretary Mayorkas’s third trip to Mexico since he became Secretary, an indication of his commitment to those relationships and of the value that he places on our bilateral partnership.
This HLSD is also the first meeting of its kind to occur in a few years. Consistent with what [Senior Administration Official One] just said, DHS believes this is very important in terms of our broader U.S. Government relationship with Mexico, but also for DHS’s engagement with its counterparts. Secretary Mayorkas has said many times that security is an effort that requires partnership. In the case of Mexico, they are our partners, and we are their partners. We have shared interests and shared destiny.
This new framework then is important for both of our countries. With this framework, we are creating a balanced and sustainable approach to security. This new security framework looks at security through a wide-angle lens and challenges our government to create the conditions for prosperity.
It remains true that we must continue to investigate, arrest, and prosecute criminals, which are key components of this framework. But it is equally true that must secure air, land, sea, and rail ports of entry to prevent the transit of illicit goods. And DHS, and its component agencies, will be working closely with our Mexican counterparts on these and other activities.
We must always keep in mind that while the HLSD focuses on security, the U.S.-Mexico relationship, and DHS’s relationship with its counterparts, is much, much broader than security. Our relationship is multidimensional and encompasses social and economic issues as well.
I now want to turn the time over to [Senior Administration Official Three] for his remarks.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: Thank you, [Senior Administration Official Two], and thank you, [Senior Administration Official One, as well.
Mexico is a key partner for the United States Department of Justice, and that’s true across the entire range of the Department of Justice’s activities. Our law enforcement agencies – the FBI, DEA, DHS, the Marshals Service work with their Mexican counterparts every single day. And it’s also true for our prosecutors, for our Office of International Affairs, for all of those for whom public safety is an important consideration and goal.
And that’s why Attorney General Garland is particularly appreciative of the opportunity to travel to Mexico, to meet with his counterparts there, and to help put in place this new framework for cooperation, a framework that focuses not just on crime, but also on the underlying causes of crime.
That’s exactly the approach that Attorney General Garland followed when he announced the new U.S. Violent Crime Initiative earlier this year in June. The Attorney General made clear that he was launching a comprehensive violent crime reduction strategy, one which not only sets strategic enforcement priorities but also invests in community-based prevention and intervention programs.
The new Mexico-U.S. bilateral framework will do the same. It will allow us to learn from each other’s prevention strategies, and it will also allow us to set enforcement priorities together, including with respect to trafficking in firearms, to illegal narcotics, to human trafficking and smuggling, to extraditions of criminals, and to money laundering and illicit finance.
In both respects then, both in attacking crime and attacking causes of crime, the framework marks a new beginning; a new beginning that will make the citizens of both countries safer.
Again, we look forward to participating in this dialogue and to the continuing cooperation with Mexico in the coming years. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you all for your remarks. So, let’s first turn the line over to Jesus Garcia.
OPERATOR: Mr. Garcia, please, go ahead. Your line is open.
QUESTION: Thanks so much for doing this. I have three questions. Is the Biden administration willing to end the Merida Initiative in Mexico as Mexican authorities are asking for?
The second one: Is Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, leader of Sinaloa Cartel, the new main goal of the United States in its fight against cartels?
And you were talking about immigration things. Are you going to sign a new agreement or talk about the program “Remain in Mexico”? If it’s yes, can you please give us more details about this new agreement? Thank you so much.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Well, this is [Senior Administration Official One]. Why don’t I take the first part about Merida, and then I’ll let my colleagues jump in after that.
So our High-Level Security Dialogue is modernizing our security framework to make it much more holistic to confront the existing and new challenges, and it’s enhancing our cooperation with Mexico on the priorities that both nations share. After 13 years of the Merida Initiative, we’re really due for an updated look at bilateral security cooperation across the full range of issues and concerns for our governments and our peoples. The Merida Initiative did a lot of things. It helped strengthen the rule of law. It helped train Mexican law enforcement agencies. It helped increase the international accreditation of Mexican law enforcement at the federal and state level. It helped deal with threats from fentanyl and illicit finance.
But that was – even that breadth of activities is much, more narrow than the things we’re looking at in the U.S.-Mexico Bicentennial Framework for Security, Public Health, and Safe Communities, and expanding to that broader area is what we’re doing now, is building on the work that we have done in the past and bringing it into a modern era to deal with the realities that we face.
MODERATOR: Let’s go over to Lara Jakes.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: Perhaps – this is [Senior Administration Official One], this is [Senior Administration Official Three] from DOJ. Just addressing the question about counternarcotics targets, understandably, of course, we are not in a position to speak to operational priorities, precisely because of operational concerns. But I can say, and say from personal experience, that the United States and Mexico work together every day to disrupt the cartels and transnational criminal organizations that prey on Mexicans and on U.S. citizens, and which are responsible for fentanyl, heroin, and methamphetamine that pose dangers to both countries and the violence that they bring to both countries, including to the citizens of Mexico.
So together, as the framework makes clear, we will pursue those cartels, including their labs and their production facilities and their supply chains, and seek to inhibit, not only the cross-border movement of drugs north, but of firearms and bulk cash south and to deny revenue to these cartels. But at the same time, as I emphasized in my opening statement, we’re also going to be looking at causes, not just the crime itself, and we’re going to be looking at ways we can increase joint efforts to decrease demand for narcotics and for strategies that can be applied in both countries and to share our experiences in seeking to reduce violent crime.
And I’ll turn it over to [Senior Administration Official Two] or [Senior Administration Official One] for the remainder. Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah, this is [Senior Administration Official Two] from DHS. I think migration is a complicated topic and it requires a regional approach to address what is a regional challenge. And so, I think what I can say is that the Department of Homeland Security alongside the Department of State and other agencies continues to engage not only with Mexico but with partners throughout the region to figure out the solutions that are going to be the most effective and can ensure that the human rights and dignity of all individuals are respected.
I don’t think it would be appropriate to get into sort of the specifics of that at this point, but I know that the Secretary is committed to a humane approach to migration management that makes sure that we both respect the rights of those who are migrating but also respect the laws of the countries to which they’re migrating. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Let’s go over to Lara Jakes.
OPERATOR: Ms. Jakes, your line is open. Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi, thank you. To follow up on that last point, do you expect any deliverables to be announced on migration policy tomorrow, as a result of these talks?
And then I also wanted to ask a question about Venezuela. We’ve seen AMLO kind of warm up to the Venezuelan Government, including having President Maduro in Mexico City last month for the CELAC conference. We’ve seen his administration step back from Juan Guaido. I’m just wondering to what extent this is going to be raised with him or with the foreign secretary tomorrow. Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Hi, this is [Senior Administration Official One]. I’ll just talk about the issue of Venezuela and, more broadly, our commitment to democracy and the welfare of the people of this hemisphere. The situation in Venezuela is one where the Venezuelan people lack basic rights and freedoms. Their rights to choose their own leaders, to set their own future have been systematically denied. And we are committed to promoting democracy, human rights, and the rule of law on a global level. And we discuss those issues with all of our partners around the globe and will continue to do so. Thanks.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: This is [Senior Administration Official Two] again. I think to the first question I would say that one of the key components of this security framework is actually to address human smuggling and trafficking, which is a crime that victimizes the most vulnerable, and it’s something that neither government wants to let stand. And so, I think one of the areas on which we intend to collaborate within this broader security framework is to take steps – or additional steps, I guess I should say – to address the criminal activity associated with the movement of individuals.
MODERATOR: Let’s go over to Simon Lewis.
OPERATOR: Mr. Lewis, your line is open.
QUESTION: Hi, thanks a lot for doing this. Just a couple of follow-ups on the Bicentennial Framework you mentioned. Is this going to include any military assistance like equipment or even training militarily? And does this involve new funding from Congress, and/or does it replace the existing funding? Will it use the existing funding that’s in place for Merida? How’s that going to work in terms of how this is paid for on the U.S. side? Thanks.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Thanks. This is [Senior Administration Official One] again. This is a very broad, comprehensive framework for our cooperation. We’re looking at cross-cutting commitments to protect human rights and promote prosperity, to share information, to focus on data and results. We’re protecting our people, we’re preventing transborder crime, we’re pursuing criminal networks, and we are doing it in a way that recognizes our shared goals and the sovereign responsibilities of each nation.
So, the next steps for us will be to develop our action plan to implement the framework, and we hope to have that done by December 1st, and then our three-year bilateral framework and plan by January 30th of 2022 that will flesh out more details. And you’ll be able to see the specific lines of effort in greater detail. I don’t want to talk about resource requests, but we are working across our governments to deliver better security, improved health and safety of our peoples, and you’ll see that coming into clearer focus as we meet those other milestones I talked about.
MODERATOR: Let’s go over to Nick Schifrin, please.
OPERATOR: Mr. Schifrin, your line is open. Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Forgive my asking a question that was asked, but not quite answered, if you don’t mind. Will you discuss how you will comply with the Supreme Court order to reinstate “Remain in Mexico”? Thanks.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah, this is [Senior Administration Official Two] from DHS. The HLSD doesn’t get into the specifics of U.S. court orders, but DHS intends to comply with the court order in good faith, as we said we are going to do. And we continue to have an open and robust dialogue with Mexico on that matter.
MODERATOR: Let’s go over to Nike Ching, please.
OPERATOR: Please, go ahead. Your line is open.
QUESTION: Thank you for this call briefing. On migration, I would like to follow up. What is the U.S. ask from Mexico, as we saw last month large groups of Haitians heading to the U.S.-Mexico border? Is the U.S. providing assistance to Mexico to fly some Haitian migrants back to their country? Also, you just mentioned two dates, an action plan by December 1st and the framework by January 30th of next year. Is there a significance of these two dates? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: So – hi, this is [Senior Administration Official One] again. I didn’t quite understand the last part of the question, but I’ll just note that the United States and Mexico, as well as the Haitian Government, are working to promote safe, humane treatment for irregular migrants, and we’re cooperating to that end. The – and we discussed that at all levels. I’ll defer to my colleague [Senior Administration Official Two] on additional details.
And if I understood correctly, the significance of the dates contained in our framework – so basically, this is – this is a pretty – already a detailed and complex approach to promoting safety and security for our citizens, and we’ll need further time to get deeper into the details and flesh out the action plan. So, we need to give ourselves a little bit of time to do that. But we’ve had intensive talks over quite some time to get to where we are, and we have a shared vision. And we’re going to work very hard to implement that vision as we will build a better future for our peoples.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: This is [Senior Administration Official Two]. I don’t have anything additional to what [Senior Administration Official One] said.
MODERATOR: Let’s take one final question from Kylie Atwood, please.
OPERATOR: And Kylie Atwood, please, go ahead. Your line is open.
QUESTION: Hi. Thank you, guys, for doing this call. Can you hear me?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Yes. Yes.
QUESTION: Great. Three questions. I’m wondering if there’s yet any agreement on the visas for DEA agents, and if not, if this will be focused on during discussions tomorrow.
Secondly, I know you said that there is kind of the nuts and bolts of disagreement to be hashed out by December and January, but as of now, how much funding is going to back this new agreement?
And then does the agreement explicitly involve some agreement about controlling the flow of guns from the U.S. to Mexico? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: [Senior Administration Official One], do you want me to start?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Yes, please.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: Okay. So, with respect to the question of visas, again, we’re not in a position to discuss operational issues of that type. But I can say, again, that we are committed to, and the bilateral framework makes clear that both countries are committed to, close law enforcement cooperation, and cooperation both operationally and all that that entails, and cooperation on thinking through strategies for confronting crime and the causes of crime. So, that will be an important goal of what we’re doing.
As to arms trafficking, again, while not going into operational decisions, the framework will make clear the commitment of both countries, and of course, especially the United States in this regard, to work to deal with the flow of arms into Mexico. That does require a collaborative effort. It requires work together on tracing firearms, on thinking through strategies to go after, that is, to investigate and prosecute traffickers, and to see that they’re held accountable on both sides of the border. And I’m happy to say that that’s work that’s already well underway, and that the framework will allow us to intensify.
And thanks, and I’ll leave the remainder to my colleagues.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Thanks, [Senior Administration Official Three]. I’ll just note that I think one of the positive aspects of the approach that we are taking is that we want the needs and the details of our work to drive our cooperation and the numbers in terms of where that resourcing is needed, where that goes.
Often, you’ll see efforts where a number is picked out of the sky, that’s the number, and then you plan against a number. We’re planning against the challenges that we face, what we need to do to accomplish these goals. And as we dig deeper into the details in each of these areas, then we will know what’s required. And cooperatively, with our Mexican colleagues, we will find the resources to meet those goals, rather than just throwing out a number and doing what we can to meet that number.
MODERATOR: That concludes today’s background briefing. Thank you all for joining. The embargo is now lifted and have a great rest of your evening.