Security, drug war on agenda at North America summit

Fri Aug 7, 2009 2:17pm EDT
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By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Border security, the drug war and arms smuggling will join trade and the recession on the agenda of President Barack Obama's first "three amigos" summit with the leaders of Mexico and Canada this weekend in Mexico.

With Mexican gangs dominating the drug trade over the U.S. border and up into Canada, and violence -- often with U.S.-made weapons -- spreading north, security is in the news in all three countries, as much, if not more, than trade, economic recession and climate change.

"What affects our bordering neighbors has the potential to affect us all, so we want to be certain that we have the tightest, best possible, cooperation," Obama's national security adviser, Jim Jones, told reporters before the meeting in Guadalajara, Mexico, on Sunday and Monday.

Obama has made relations with his neighbors a priority during his first months in office. Since becoming president in January, he has met both Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mexican President Felipe Calderon several times.

Mexican drug gangs are killing rivals in record numbers, despite Calderon's three-year army assault on the cartels. The death rate this year is about a third higher than in 2008, and police in the United States and as far north as Vancouver have blamed violence on the Mexican traffickers.

"Violence, particularly in Mexico, has increased exponentially. There are some signs that it is heading north of the border not just in the United States but also in Canada," said Shannon O'Neil, a Latin American expert at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

Obama promised full support to Calderon during a visit in April, but Mexico complains that anti-drug equipment and training are taking too long to arrive and hopes the summit will move things ahead.

Border security is a concern for all three leaders, with illegal immigration a volatile political issue in the United States, home to millions of undocumented Mexicans.   Continued...

<p>A Marine stands guard in front of about 7,660kg of marijuana before its incineration at a naval base in Guaymas Mexican state of Sinaloa, July 9, 2008. REUTERS/Jorge Dan Lopez</p>