MEXICO CITY - Seeking to ease a cross-border relationship strained by drug trafficking, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrived here Wednesday and offered the clearest acknowledgment yet from an Obama administration official of the role the United States plays in the violent narcotics trade in Mexico.
"Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade," Mrs. Clinton said, using unusually blunt language. "Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police officers, soldiers and civilians."
Mrs. Clinton's remarks were coupled with a pledge that the administration would seek $80 million from Congress to provide Mexican authorities with three Black Hawk helicopters to help the police track drug runners.
She also came bearing a new White House initiative, announced Tuesday, to deploy 450 more law enforcement officers at the border, and crack down on the smuggling of guns and drug money into Mexico.
The diplomatic offensive, which will include visits by several other senior American officials ahead of President Obama's visit next month, was calculated to mollify Mexican officials, who have chafed in recent years at what they regard as Mexico-bashing in Washington. It seems to have worked.
Patricia Espinosa, Mexico's foreign secretary, said the new measures were "much along the line of cooperation that we have been trying to build upon." But, she added, "there is always room for improvement in the U.S."
Indeed, some of the Obama administration's measures are likely to run squarely into American political realities. For example, early indications that Mr. Obama will push for stricter controls on the sale of assault rifles have already set off an outcry among gun-control opponents.
"Politically, this is a very big hurdle in our Congress," Mrs. Clinton conceded.
Since last year, battles between law enforcement authorities and cartels, and other drug-related violence, have resulted in more than 7,200 deaths in Mexico, raising doubts about the government's control over parts of its territory. The violence has also begun to spill across the border.
Mrs. Clinton met with the President Felipe Calderón and praised his campaign to root out corruption in the police force and the courts. She said Mr. Obama had not decided whether to post National Guard troops along the border, an issue that has aroused opposition in Mexico.
On Wednesday, the Mexican Army said it had arrested one of the country's most-wanted drug smugglers, Héctor Huerta, near Monterrey, the northern city Mrs. Clinton will visit Thursday.
Mrs. Clinton said that in addition to sending the helicopters, the United States would help supply Mexican law enforcement officers with night-vision goggles, body armor and other equipment to battle the cartels, which are heavily armed.
"We've got to figure out how to stop these bad guys," she said. "These criminals are outgunning the law enforcement officials."
Drugs are not the only issue vexing relations between the United States and Mexico. Congress recently canceled funds for a pilot program to allow Mexican trucks to haul cargo on American highways. Mexico retaliated by imposing $2.4 billion in tariffs on 89 American exports.
Mexican officials complain about mixed signals from the United States, noting that even as the administration steps up law enforcement help on the border, Congress has cut back funds for a three-year, $1.4 billion drug countertrafficking campaign called the Merida Initiative.
Even small slights rankle. When Forbes magazine put the Mexican drug lord Joaquín Guzmán, known as El Chapo, on its list of the world's richest people, it elicited more attention, and offense, in Mexico than when Mr. Obama acknowledged that the drug trade was a two-way street.
"There have been lots of different voices from the Obama administration," said Andrew Selee, director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. "Hillary Clinton's mission is to make sure there is a single voice."
Mrs. Clinton said the administration was retooling the truck program to get it through Congress, and she expressed optimism that lawmakers were receptive but did not give details.
She defended the decision of Congress to withhold funds for the Merida Initiative, saying the lawmakers were watching to see that the $700 million already spent was being used wisely. The administration, she said, was weighing whether to ask for more money for the program.
The agreement between the nations was most vivid in comments by Ms. Espinosa and Mrs. Clinton on the need to crack down on gun smuggling. In December, Ms. Espinosa stood by as Condoleezza Rice, then the secretary of state, denied a link between the expiration of an assault weapons ban and drug violence.
"It is shocking to hear an American politician admit there is an issue," said Denise Dresser, a prominent Mexican commentator and political scientist.
There were echoes of the presidential candidate in Mrs. Clinton's discussion of America's fitful war on drugs. She mentioned many failed efforts, going back to the "Just Say No" campaign.
"Clearly what we have been doing has not worked," she said.
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