Note: It is appropriate to roll your eyes and groan at this point.
President Obama Backs Inter-American Arms TreatyBy Scott WilsonWashington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 16, 2009; 1:52 PM
MEXICO CITY, April 16--President Obama will announce in a visit here today that he will push the U.S. Senate to ratify an inter-American arms trafficking treaty designed to curb the flow of guns and ammunition to drug cartels and other armed groups in the hemisphere.
Senior administration officials confirmed that he will make the announcement after meeting with Mexican President Felipe Calderon this afternoon. The meeting is the centerpiece of Obama's first visit to Mexico, whose government is engaged in a broad war against heavily armed drug cartels now threatening the integrity of the state.
"The Obama administration's commitment to seek ratification [of the treaty] is important because stemming the number of illegal firearms which flow into Latin America and the Caribbean is a high priority for the region and addresses a key hemispheric concern relating to people's personal security and well-being," said a senior Obama administration official.
Obama's visit here, the first by a U.S. president to the capital in 13 years, represents a show of support for Calderon, who two years ago became the first Mexican president to so fully deploy the army against drug cartels supplying a enormously lucrative American market.
Since then, more than 10,000 people have died in drug-related violence that is most intense along the U.S.-Mexican border. The Bush administration won approval for a three-year, $1.4 billion counter-narcotics package for Mexico and some Central American countries in June 2008, but the military hardware has been slow in arriving.
Many of the guns used by the drug cartels travel south from the United States. Some assault rifles recovered by Mexican authorities have been traced back to U.S. military bases.
In the days leading up to the president's visit here, senior Obama administration officials said the government was focused on enforcing existing U.S. laws to stop arms smuggling, although Mexican officials have called for more help.
Obama's announcement on the treaty -- formally known as the Inter-American Convention Against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives and other Related Items -- will mark an additional step.
The Clinton administration signed the treaty, better known by its Spanish acronym CIFTA, after the Organization of American States adopted it in 1997. In all, 33 countries in the hemisphere have signed the treaty. The United States is one of four nations that have yet to ratify the convention, although Obama administration officials say the U.S. government has sought to abide by the spirit of the treaty for years.
The treaty requires countries to take a number of steps to reduce the illegal manufacture and trade in guns, ammunition and explosives.
In addition to making illegal the unauthorized manufacture and exporting of firearms, the treaty calls for countries to adopt strict licensing requirements, mark firearms when they are made and imported to make them easier to trace, and establish a cooperative process for sharing information between national law-enforcement agencies investigating arms smuggling.
Advocates for the treaty have argued that the United States, even if it is trying to follow many of the convention's requirements, is undermining its credibility by failing to ratify it. The treaty was sent to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1998, but no action has been taken since then.
U.S. gun-rights groups participated as observers in drafting the treaty, which experts say includes language stating that it does not impinge on the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment. But U.S. advocates of the treaty say its passage bogged down in the waning days of the Clinton administration, and never emerged as a priority for the Bush administration.
Jorge Chabat, a professor of international studies at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics in Mexico City, said Obama's advocacy for the treaty marks "an important step toward ending the permissiveness in the United States" toward arms trafficking on its border.
"Obviously there is a part of this that is symbolic," Chabat said. "But President Obama has moved to do more against this arms trafficking from the U.S., and this is part of that. There is a great deal of fear behind this that the border violence will enter the United States."
Johanna Mendelson Forman, senior associate of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said "this goes beyond symbolism."
"It sends not only a positive message to Mexico, but also to the region that the United States wants to be a reliable partner in improving security," she said.