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Tillerson: U.S. drug habits drive Mexico violence

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Photographs by AP/JACQUELYN MARTIN

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks to the media, Thursday, May 18, 2017, at the State Department in Washington.

WASHINGTON -- Two top officials in President Donald Trump's administration said Thursday that Americans' demand for illicit drugs is fueling violence in Mexico and must be reduced if cross-border security issues are to be addressed.

Speaking after talks on combating transnational crime with their Mexican counterparts, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly both said the United States bears significant responsibility for the problem. They said U.S. demand for opioids and other drugs is the prime driver of not only devastating overdose death tolls in the United States but also raging gang violence in Mexico.

"We Americans must own this problem," Tillerson told reporters. "It is ours."

He called for a comprehensive campaign against domestic drug addiction combined with stepped-up intelligence and information sharing with Mexico to disrupt drug traffickers by hitting production sites, transportation networks and their cash flows.

Mexicans long have argued that U.S. counterdrug strategies have failed to focus on the demand side: U.S. addicts and recreational users consuming huge amounts of cocaine, heroin and marijuana that are smuggled in from Mexico by violent drug cartels.

That, Tillerson said, must change.

"There is no other market; it is all us," Tillerson said. "But for us, Mexico wouldn't have a transnational organized crime problem and the violence that they're suffering. ... We really have to own up to that."

Kelly echoed those comments, saying that until the consumption of illicit drugs in the United States drops, "we are fighting a losing battle on the border." He said construction of Trump's promised border wall would have to be supplemented with drug demand reduction in the U.S. and greater coordination with Mexico to make a serious dent in the drug flow.

Mexican Foreign Secretary Luis Videgaray and Secretary of Government Miguel Osorio agreed and said their government would take steps to improve cooperation as well as do more to prosecute gang members. "Violence is not being addressed on our side," Osorio said.

In accepting even partial U.S. responsibility for the surge in drug violence and crime, Tillerson and Kelly appeared to take a page from President Barack Obama's administration, which had been criticized by some Republicans for blaming the United States for Mexico's problems.

Information for this article was contributed by Tracy Wilkinson of Tribune News Service.

A Section on 05/19/2017

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