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Updated: March 21, 2010 15:17 IST

Drug menace: Hillary heads for Mexico

Narayan Lakshman
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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. File Photo: AP
AP
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. File Photo: AP

At a time of heightened concern over drugs-related bloodshed in Mexico — some of it affecting American citizens — Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has announced plans to hold discussions with authorities there next week.

The talks come close on the heels of the killings in Ciudad Juarez, by suspected drug gangs, of three persons associated with the U.S. consulate there. Last weekend, an employee of the consulate, her husband and the husband of a Mexican employee were gunned down. President Barack Obama had said he was “deeply saddened and outraged” at the events.

The State Department announced that Ms. Clinton would travel to Mexico City for the Merida U.S.-Mexico High Level Consultative Group meeting on March 23. In an indication of the seriousness with which the U.S. views the recent escalation in violence and important questions surrounding protection of the U.S.-Mexico border, Ms. Clinton will be joined by a host of senior administration officials on this trip.

According to an official announcement, the talks will be attended by Secretary of Defence Robert M. Gates, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet A. Napolitano, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism John O. Brennan, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael G. Mullen, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Assistant Secretary for Homeland Security John Morton, Acting Deputy Attorney-General Gary G. Grindler; Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) Director Adam Szubin, Office of National Drug Control Policy Acting Deputy Director of the Office of Supply Reduction Patrick Ward and Drug Enforcement Administration Acting Administrator Michele M. Leonhart.

The talks also follow a decision by the U.S., earlier this week, to freeze financing for a “virtual” fence programme started by the Bush administration in 2005 to better control the 3,200-km border by 2011. The fence is a network of cameras, sensors and radar. Ms. Napolitano said: “The system of sensors and cameras along the Southwest border known as SBInet has been plagued with cost overruns and missed deadlines,” highlighting the need to review the project.

The talks next week will be chaired by Ms. Clinton and Mexican Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa and will focus on “enhanced engagement in support of our shared goals of breaking the power of drug trafficking organisations… [and] creating a 21st century border; and building strong and resilient communities,” said the State Department.

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