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Barack Obama meets Mexican leader

Barack Obama (L) meets Felipe Calderon at the Mexican Cultural Institute in Washington DC, 12 January 2009
The meeting was Mr Obama's first with a foreign leader since his election

Mexico's violent drugs war, immigration and trade have dominated talks between US President-elect Barack Obama and Mexico's President Felipe Calderon.

Monday's meeting in Washington DC was Mr Obama's first with a foreign leader since his election in November.

His transition office said the talks highlighted the importance of the relationship between the US and Mexico.

Mr Obama, who will be sworn in on 20 January, will make his first foreign trip to Canada, officials have said.

No date has been set but officials indicated it would be "soon" after Mr Obama takes office, restoring a long-standing tradition that Canada is the first destination for a new US president.

"It will be the first foreign trip of his presidency, underscoring the importance of the relationship between the United States and Canada," said Brooke Anderson, a transition spokeswoman.

Canada is the US's biggest trading partner, followed by China, and then Mexico.

Crime threat

After joining Mr Calderon for a lunch of tortilla soup, Mr Obama said his administration was "going to be ready on day one" to work to build stronger relations with Mexico.

The friendship between the US and Mexico has been strong. I believe it can be even stronger
Barack Obama

Their meeting at the Mexican Cultural Institute included discussion on efforts by the Mexican government to tackle the drugs gangs that have seen more than 30,000 troops deployed since 2006.

There were more than 5,000 drug-related murders there last year, with many of the deaths in cities just across the border from the US.

In December, the US justice department said Mexican drug traffickers posed the biggest organised crime threat to the US.

Mr Obama has previously praised Mr Calderon's stance and supports a multi-million dollar aid package known as the Merida Initiative to help Mexico in the fight against illegal drugs.

He has also spoken about the need to address not only the flow of drugs north but the smuggling of guns from the US to Mexico.

"The friendship between the US and Mexico has been strong," he said. "I believe it can be even stronger."

Crowded agenda

As well as discussing ways to reduce drug-related violence in Mexico, topics covered included stopping the flow of arms from the US to Mexico and improving trade, an Obama spokesman said.

Mr Calderon said the discussions were both productive and substantive.

Police officers stand next to the bullet-riddled vehicle where an assistant federal prosecutor was killed along with his secretary in the border city of Ciudad Juarez on 3 December
There were more than 5,000 drug-related murders in Mexico in 2008

"The more secure Mexico is, the more secure the US will be," he said.

The Mexican president had been expected to raise the issue of immigration, pressing for "better conditions for Mexicans in the United States, based on respect for their rights", his office said.

During the election campaign, Mr Obama said he wanted stronger border controls but also a comprehensive package of reforms to establish a path to legal status for illegal immigrants.

He also spoke of renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) between the US, Mexico and Canada, but then softened his rhetoric.

Important though these issues are, they are jostling for space in an already crowded agenda for the incoming president that includes the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the economic crisis, correspondents say.

In a wide-ranging interview on Sunday, Mr Obama spoke about the state of the US economy, violence in the Middle East, relations with Iran and the future of the US detention camp at Guantanamo Bay.

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