WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will host Mexico's Enrique Pena Nieto at the White House on November 27, just days before the new leader takes office in Mexico City, U.S. officials said Monday.
Obama "looks forward to meeting president-elect Pena Nieto and hearing about his vision for leading Mexico over the next six years," White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement.
The two men plan to discuss a broad range of bilateral, regional and global issues, likely to focus on the drug war raging along their shared 3,000-kilometer (1,800-mile) border, the statement said.
"The United States remains committed to work in partnership with Mexico to increase economic competitiveness in both countries, promote regional development, advance bilateral efforts to develop a secure and efficient 21st Century Border, and address our common security challenges," according to Carney’s statement.
Pena Nieto, due to take power on December 1, succeeds Felipe Calderon, who in 2006 deployed the military to take the lead in the crackdown on the powerful drug cartels plaguing the country.
Violence has escalated since with gang turf wars, clashes between the military and the drug cartels, and an endless wave of extrajudicial killings claiming more than 60,000 lives.
Pena Nieto has vowed to shift focus from the military crackdown on the cartels to reducing the murders, kidnappings, and extortion that blight Mexican society.
The youthful 46-year-old's victory in July elections marks the return to power of the former ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) after a 12-year absence.
Mexico's federal police has faced a series of embarrassing incidents, including the shooting in August of two U.S. government employees by a group of officers.
The incident highlighted the often secretive U.S. role in Mexico's brutal drug war that in the past forced Calderon's government to defend the presence of U.S. agents or the use of U.S. drones over Mexican territory in the anti-narcotics fight.
The United States is providing equipment and law enforcement training to Mexico under the $1.6 billion Merida Initiative, a program aimed at combating drug trafficking.
America's involvement in the affairs of Latin American nations is always a sensitive issue, given its support to military regimes during the Cold War.
Other U.S. citizens have also been caught up in the drug violence.
For example, two U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were shot by Zetas cartel gunmen while driving between Mexico City and the northern city of Monterrey in February 2011. One of them died in the attack.
Trade and business will also be on the agenda when Obama and Pena Nieto meet next Tuesday. Mexico, Canada, and the United States are parties to the North American Free Trade Agreement.
© AFP 2013