“We seek to lead an effort in pragmatic diplomacy”

Foreign Secretary José Antonio Meade on why the US needs Mexico

José Antonio Meade Kuribreña, pictured during the interview.
José Antonio Meade Kuribreña, pictured during the interview.Pep Companys / EL PAÍS

The Mexican Foreign Secretary, José Antonio Meade, is the only relevant member of the previous administration (he was energy and treasury secretary) who was asked by the new President Enrique Peña Nieto to remain in government. In this interview with EL PAÍS, Meade explains that besides security, Mexico wants to discuss other issues with Barack Obama during his upcoming visit to the capital.

Question. What will the focus of Obama’s visit be?

Answer. The topics that will be addressed are fundamentally the economy, the opportunities arising from our relations, education, science, technology and innovation; this underscores the fact that both presidents are convinced there is a broad agenda that we must exploit to create better conditions for growth and wellbeing for both our communities.

Q. With a few days to go before the visit, how would you define US-Mexico relations?

A. Any indicator that one cares to choose to assess the relationship shows that it is intense, constructive, productive, and that it affords both countries significant opportunities. There are figures to put it in perspective: we trade more than a million dollars per minute, and there are over a million border crossings a day; this gives you a sense of the scale involved.

Q. What problems would you highlight?

A. I would rather highlight the opportunities: in this great universe of interaction, there are certainly matters of concern, like security, immigration or the border. But if one weighs the great daily volume of exchange and interaction, much more of it is positive than negative. There is still great potential in a bilateral approach to our common challenges.

Q. Some critics say this government has kept quiet about the debates on weapons and immigration reform currently underway in the US.

A. The expression of the importance these issues have for Mexico, and the development of a strategy to try to ensure both issues result in positive outcomes for Mexico, do not require strident or scandalous media statements. What’s required is coordinated work, putting information on the table, being near the actors who are participating in the debate, and building on the basis of mutual understanding. Mexico is an actor and an interested party in both debates, and immigration reform is unthinkable without a close dialogue with Mexico, which is taking place on a daily basis.

Q. The last time that the PRI was in power, expressions like the one recently used by the new US Secretary of State John Kerry to the effect that Latin America is his country’s backyard, would have triggered a huge debate in Mexico. This time there was none. Why not?

A. Because both societies are in tune with each other; their relationship does not depend or hang on a particular sign or statement, but on a multiplicity of ties, of contacts, of actions, and the mere fact that President Obama is visiting at such an early moment of his second term in office and at the beginning of President Peña Nieto’s own term, is much more eloquent than a nuance or an expression that was certainly not very appropriate.