January 9, 2009 / 1:22 AM / 9 years ago

Obama to meet Mexico's Calderon on Monday

<p>U.S. President-elect Barack Obama waves to supporters as he leaves the Presidential Inaugural Committee offices in Washington, January 8, 2009.Jim Young</p>

WASHINGTON/MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Barack Obama will meet on Monday with Mexican President Felipe Calderon, marking the incoming U.S. president's first meeting with a foreign leader since he was elected in November.

The talks in Washington are likely to cover issues such as Mexico's increasingly violent drug war, Mexican migration to the United States and the NAFTA trade agreement.

An announcement by Obama's transition team described the meeting as part of a nearly three-decade tradition of U.S. presidents meeting with the leader of the neighboring nation prior to inauguration.

Shortly before his inauguration in January 1993, former President Bill Clinton met with Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari.

In August 2000, President George W. Bush met in Dallas with Vicente Fox, who was then Mexico's president-elect. Bush at the time was governor of Texas and a presidential candidate.

Calderon, in power since the end of 2006, hopes to discuss security, immigration and economic issues with Obama, said Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa. Espinosa told a news conference that the two would meet at noon (1700 GMT) on Monday.

One of Calderon's priorities is to press Obama to follow through on a U.S. aid program to help Mexico combat the drug trade. The Mexican president is battling drug traffickers blamed for killing 5,650 people last year.

Calderon is also concerned about Obama's campaign promise to renegotiate North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada. The deal has greatly expanded Mexican trade with its powerful neighbor since it went into effect in 1994 but is seen by U.S. unions as a cause of job losses in big industrial states like Ohio.

Easing Tensions

Obama, who takes over from Bush on January 20, has generally avoided weighing in publicly on foreign affairs during his transition to the White House, citing the principle that there is only one U.S. president at a time.

When Bush hosted a summit of the leaders of the Group of 20 major economies in November, several leaders expressed an interest in sitting down with Obama but the president-elect decided it would not be appropriate to do so at that time.

Leaders from Mexico and Canada, the two closest U.S. neighbors, are typically the earliest to hold meetings with new U.S. presidents.

Many in Mexico see Obama's election as a chance to restore good relations after Bush focused on the Middle East and failed to deliver a promised accord with Mexico on immigration.

The nearly 2,000-mile (3,200-km) border with Mexico is the main entry point for illegal immigrants into the United States, which is already home to 11 million to 12 million undocumented aliens, or one in every 20 workers in the country.

The United States has begun construction on a 670-mile (1,070-km) border fence that will eventually stretch from California to Texas. It is designed to stem the tide of illegal immigrants.

Bush developed an early rapport with former president Fox, but their relationship cooled after Mexico opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Espinosa said it was vital to push ahead with a $1.4 billion drug aid package pledged by Bush in early 2007. So far nearly $300 million of aid has been freed up, but the first equipment is unlikely to arrive until late this year.

Additional reporting by Catherine Bremer and Michael O'Boyle in Mexico City, and JoAnne Allen in Washington; Editing by Anthony Boadle

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