Just months after being one of the last foreign leaders to recognize Joe Biden's victory in the November 2020 election, Mexican President Manuel LÃ³pez Obrador was scheduled to meet with his American counterpart on Thursday and discuss a wide range of issues including immigration and security.
In a statement ahead of the event, the White House said that the two leaders will discuss cooperation on migration, joint development efforts in Mexico and Central America, Covid-19 recovery and economic cooperation.
The meeting, however, comes on the heels of LÃ³pez Obrador's failure to quickly congratulate Biden on his electoral victory, as well as a recently adopted measure to curtail security cooperation with the United States following the controversial arrest of former Mexican Defense Minister General Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda in October.
Former Mexican ambassador to the US Geronimo Gutierrez - who is currently a member of the Mexico Institute Advisory board and Managing Partner of Beel Infrastructure Partners - said that the prospect of a "clash" between the two men was unlikely to ever materialize.
"The relationship is very important for both sides. However, there are clear differences and challenges ahead: energy policies in Mexico, climate change and the role of fossil fuels versus renewables, a deteriorating business climate in Mexico, security and law enforcement cooperation and a realistic but principled approach to immigration," Gutierrez said in a statement
Gutierrez added that "simply avoiding a conflict is a very limited objective for such an important relationship, especially considering the present geopolitical context and Mexico's need to get the economy going again."
Additionally, ahead of the meeting, the White House said that security would play a prominent role in the discussion, with the US and Mexico agreeing "on the importance of working together against the common threat posed by transnational crime."
Through the Merida Initiative, the US has appropriated more than $3.2 billion in equipment, training and capacity building between 2008 and 2020.
"Despite the strain stemming from the Cienfuegos matter, security cooperation remains essential if we wish to address drug abuse and overdose, corruption and organized crime which impact both nations," Andrew Rudman, Director of the Mexico Institute, said ahead of the event.
On the commercial side, Biden and LÃ³pez Obrador were expected to address a number of outstanding commercial issues, including the implementation of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).
"I am hopeful that an announcement may be forthcoming on a North American Leaders Summit so that these and other issues can be pursued from a North American perspective in addition to bilaterally," Rudman said.
Arturo Sarukhan, who served as Mexico's ambassador to the United States between 2007 and 2013, said that beyond the specifics of the meeting's agenda, the discussion "will evidence one of the salient challenges for the relationship going forward."
"As a politician who cut his teeth in the Mexico of the seventies and eighties, LÃ³pez Obrador simply does not comprehend how the US-Mexico relationship evolved," he said. "There is no such thing as a relationship with independent silos for domestic and bilateral foreign policy issues, respectively. They are intertwined, in what I started labelling as an â€˜intermestic' agenda during my tenure as Ambassador."
Sarukhan added, however, that the relationship between the two countries may be strained in the long-term as a result of LÃ³pez Obrador's concerns about infringements on Mexico's sovereignty.
"If you add to the mix Lopez Obrador's obsession with sovereignty as a way to foil what he perceives is foreign meddling, the necessary and unescapable transborder synergies on everything from USMCA compliance, climate change and a green economy, energy efficiency and security, essential supply chains and food security to migration flows and labor mobility, transnational criminal organizations or cybersecurity will become extremely difficult to address and tackle jointly," he said.
Before Thursday's meeting, LÃ³pez Obrador said that he intends to propose a â€˜Bracero'-style immigrant labor program that could bring as many as 600,000 to 800,000 Mexican and Central American immigrants a year to work legally in the US.
Senior Biden administration officials, however, have declined to say whether the US would support the plan, and have instead said that the US and Mexico mutually agree on a need to expand legal pathways for immigration to the United States.
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