MEXICO CITY —
The new Mexican leader was purposely seeking to avoid the perceived missteps of former Mexican President Vicente Fox, who irked conservatives in the U.S. by lobbying for an immigration overhaul in 2001.
Pena Nieto's election brought Mexico's Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, back to power after a decade on the sidelines. The security changes are emblematic of the party's preference for centralized political and bureaucratic control.
The arrangement means all contact for U.S. law enforcement will now go through a "single door," according to Mexico's federal Interior Ministry, the agency that controls security and domestic policy. Under the previous policy, FBI, CIA, DEA and border patrol agents had direct access to units of Mexico's Federal Police, army and navy. U.S. agents worked side by side with those Mexican units in the fight against drug cartels, including the U.S.-backed strategy of killing or arresting top kingpins.
Obama lauded his Mexican counterpart for launching bold reforms during his first months in office, not only on security but also the economy. Both leaders have said they want to refocus the U.S.-Mexico relationship on trade and the economy, not the drug wars and immigration issues that have dominated the partnership in recent years.
In a nod to that effort, Obama and Pena Nieto announced a new partnership for closer cooperation between top officials in both countries. Vice President Joe Biden will also participate in that process, Obama said.
Already the economic relationship between the two countries is robust, with Mexico accounting for $500 billion in U.S. trade in 2011 and ranking as the second-largest export market for U.S. goods. A stronger Mexican economy would result in even more trade and job growth on both sides of the border, Obama aides say.
On Friday, Obama will speak to an audience of Mexican students before heading to Costa Rica for talks with Central American leaders. His meetings there are expected to focus on bolstering regional economic cooperation, as well as security issues.