U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said an updated security framework being developed between the United States and Mexico "marks the beginning of a new chapter" in security cooperation between the two nations.
In his first visit to Mexico as the top U.S. diplomat, Blinken said Friday, "it's time for a comprehensive new approach to our security cooperation, one that will see us as equal partners in defining our shared priorities."
He told reporters in Mexico City at a joint press conference with Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard that the security framework will go beyond immigration and border security to tackle the "root causes of the security challenges that we face," including inequity, public health and economic factors.
Ebrard said the initiative, called the U.S.-Mexico Bicentennial Framework for Security, Public Health and Safe Communities, is "not just any cooperation agreement – it is a security alliance. An alliance has another qualitative level different from a cooperation agreement."
Blinken joined U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in Mexico City on Friday for what the State Department called a high-level dialogue on security issues.
Ebrard represented the Mexican side during the security talks, along with Cabinet secretaries from Mexico's defense and security agencies.
"Both of our presidents have named as priorities pursuing criminal networks, preventing transborder crime, protecting our people," Blinken said after arriving in Mexico City on Friday.
"To do that, we have to do more to disrupt arms and narcotics trafficking and human smuggling, to strengthen port and border security, to dismantle the financial systems that sustain organized crime and to root out impunity and hold accountable human rights abusers and, critically, to address public health issues of addiction, which fuels the drug trade."
Earlier Friday, Blinken met with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who hailed a "new phase" in relations between Mexico and the United States.
Senior administration officials said during a phone briefing on Thursday that the U.S. is unveiling the new initiative to look for "ways to reinvigorate security cooperation."
The new U.S.-Mexico bilateral framework will allow both countries to "learn from each other's prevention strategies" and "set enforcement priorities together," a senior U.S. administration official said. That cooperation will be applied to security issues including trafficking and firearms, illegal narcotics, human trafficking and smuggling, extradition of criminals, money laundering and illicit firearms.
The new arrangement replaces the 13-year-old Merida Initiative, in which the U.S. provided some funding to assist Mexico in combating the threats of drug trafficking, transnational organized crime and money laundering, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Thursday.
"The Merida Initiative helped Mexico strengthen rule of law and counternarcotics capacity," Price said. "We want to see to it that those gains are preserved, (and) that that cooperation is deepened."
Ebrard described the previous agreement Friday as largely about Mexican law enforcement capturing drug lords. He said the new agreement is a joint strategy that is "much more complex and broader" and focuses on additional factors, including addiction. He said the latest initiative is "more egalitarian, more balanced" than the previous one.
Blinken said U.S. officials are in "very close daily contact with our colleagues in Mexico" about the situation of Haitian migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border.
When asked by VOA about the treatment of Haitian migrants at the border, he said that the United States is "determined that as we enforce our laws, we do so fully respecting the human rights and the dignity of all people."
Blinken said the United States is trying to make clear to Haitian migrants that if they seek to cross into the United States as part of an "irregular migration," they "put themselves at tremendous risk along the entire route, and they will not be able to enter the United States."
He said various groups are spreading false information that Haitians will be allowed to cross the U.S.-Mexico border and said "we're working to make sure that we're communicating" that that is not the case.
VOA's Nike Ching and Wayne Lee contributed to this report. Some information for this report came from Reuters.