WASHINGTON - Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton set out for Mexico Wednesday to pursue a broad diplomatic agenda that will be overshadowed by spiraling drug violence and fears of greater cross-border spillover.
A day after the Obama administration announced it would send more money, technology and manpower to secure the United States' Southwestern frontier and help Mexican authorities in their battle against drug cartels, Clinton was to depart on a two-day trip to Mexico City and Monterrey aimed at bolstering anti-narcotics cooperation.
U.S. officials say they do not want relations with Mexico to be dominated by the violence, which has spread from the border region on the Mexican side into some U.S. border states. The officials maintain that Clinton also wants to discuss trade, climate change and the global financial crisis in her meetings.
Among the contentious issues are new Mexican tariffs on 89 U.S. products imposed last week in retaliation for a U.S. decision to cancel a cross-border program that gave Mexican truckers access to U.S. highways. Mexico's move could affect about $2.4 billion in annual trade.
Yet U.S. officials acknowledge that the violence between Mexican President Felipe Calderon's government and the cartels, along with bloody turf battles among the traffickers, are the most urgent issues the two countries face. Clinton's talks are designed in part to encourage Mexican authorities to do more in response to the stepped-up U.S. effort, they say.
The escalating violence has set off alarm bells in the U.S. and triggered a State Department travel alert last month that compared recent confrontations between Mexican authorities and the cartels to "small-unit combat." Mexican officials say the violence killed 6,290 people last year and more than 1,000 in the first eight weeks of 2009.
It has also led to a spate of kidnappings and home invasions in some Southwestern U.S. cities, prompting calls from officials for troops to be sent to the border.
Clinton's trip marks the start of several high-level meetings on the matter. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Eric Holder are to meet with Mexican officials in early April before President Barack Obama is expected to visit Mexico ahead of the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago.