U.S. and Mexico agree on trucks, easing tensions
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WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama and Mexican President Felipe Calderon announced a solution Thursday to their long-running dispute over the passage of trucks across the border, settling one of the issues that has aggravated tensions between the two countries.
The agreement was cheered by business leaders, who say the dispute hurt trade. But union leaders and many Democrats fear that a free-flow of trucks from Mexico will come at the expense of the U.S. trucking industry and the jobs it provides.
The agreement was the only substantive takeaway of a summit between the two leaders, but was seen as meaningful, given the sensitive moment of the meeting. Mr. Calderon has complained in recent weeks that U.S. efforts in the joint fight against Mexican drug cartels have failed to curb the U.S. demand for drugs or stem the flow of U.S. weapons into Mexico.
The Mexican leader also has expressed his irritation over the December leak of secret diplomatic cables in which U.S. officials expressed frustration with a "risk averse" Mexican army that they believe has impeded the fight against the cartels.
Thursday's meetings were the first since that leak. But Mr. Obama and Mr. Calderon projected a positive image of U.S.-Mexican relations. Both emphasized the strength of the ties and cooperation between the two countries, especially in the effort to stop the flow of drugs and guns and tamp down the violence across the border. Mr. Obama praised the "extraordinary courage" of Mexicans and pledged to remain a "full partner" with Mr. Calderon.
As he stood beside Mr. Obama, Mr. Calderon expressed sadness for the recent murder in Mexico of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agent Jaime Zapata, and pledged to bring those responsible to justice.
But when Mr. Obama said the United States has filed a formal extradition request, asking Mexico to turn over Mr. Zapata's alleged killer, Mr. Calderon said he was not yet willing to comply. "We have to review what the law stipulates," he said, saying he wants to "reserve his opinion" on sending the alleged assailant, Julian Zapata Espinoza, to the United States.
White House officials pointed to the breakthrough on trucking as a sign of good relations. Cross-border trucking was allowed under the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, but U.S. officials have balked over safety and environmental concerns. Mexico has pledged to meet U.S. standards; the two governments still must work out the details.
The deal, allowing Mexican trucks to operate in the United States, angered union leaders, a valuable part of Mr. Obama's political base. The Teamsters union said that in its earlier policy, the Obama administration had rightly barred Mexican truckers from driving in this country because their vehicles are "unsafe."
First Published March 4, 2011 12:00 am