political notebook

President vows to help Mexico fight drug cartels

President Obama and President Enrique Pena Nieto of Mexico exited a news conference in Mexico City.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press
President Obama and President Enrique Pena Nieto of Mexico exited a news conference in Mexico City.

MEXICO CITY — Acknowledging uncertainty ahead, President Obama said Thursday that the United States would cooperate with Mexico to fight drug-trafficking and organized crime in any way Mexico’s government deems appropriate. President Enrique Pena Nieto of Mexico emphasized that the security relationship must be expanded to focus on trade and commerce.

Appearing with Pena Nieto at a news conference, Obama recommitted the United States to fighting the demand for illegal drugs in his country and the flow of illegal guns across the border to Mexico, even as the southern neighbor rethinks how much access it gives to American security agencies.

‘‘I agreed to continue our close cooperation on security, even as the nature of that cooperation will evolve,’’ Obama said. ‘‘It is obviously up to the Mexican people to determine their security structures and how it engages with other nations — including the United States.’’


Obama’s remarks come as Pena Nieto, in a shift from his predecessor, has moved to end the widespread access that US security agencies have had in Mexico to help fight drug-trafficking and organized crime. The White House has been cautious in its public response to the changes, with the president and his advisers saying they need to hear directly from the Mexican leader before making a judgment.

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Pena Nieto, speaking at the news conference in Spanish, downplayed the notion that the new arrangement would mean less close cooperation with the United States. ‘‘There is no clash between these two goals,’’ he said.

The two leaders met Thursday on the first day of Obama’s three-day trip to Mexico and Costa Rica.

Seeking to put a new spin on a long-standing partnership, Obama is promoting jobs and trade — not drug wars or border security — as the driving force behind the US-Mexico relationship.


Sides trade blame as key US posts remain vacant


WASHINGTON — Secretary of State John F. Kerry is practically home alone, toiling without permanent assistant secretaries of state for the Middle East, Asia, Europe, and Africa. At the Pentagon, a temporary personnel chief is managing furloughs for 800,000 civilian employees. It was Thursday that President Obama nominated a new commerce secretary after the job was open for nearly a year.

As the White House races this week to plug keyholes in the Cabinet, the lights remain off in essential offices across the administration.

“I don’t think it’s ever been this bad,’’ said congressman Frank R. Wolf, a Virginia Republican, who recently wrote a letter urging Obama to act swiftly to fill top vacancies.

The White House faults an increasingly partisan confirmation process in the Senate a nd what officials say are over-the-top demands for data on every part of a nominee’s life.