Biden-AMLO meeting set positive tone but lacked concrete results, experts say
During the ‘virtual meeting' on Monday, President Biden sought López Obrador's help in stemming the flow of Central American migrants headed north through Mexico to the US border

The meeting between Mexican President Manuel López Obrador and US President Joe Biden allowed both sides to "cover their bases" but resulted in no firm commitments from either side, according to experts.

During the ‘virtual meeting' on Monday, President Biden sought López Obrador's help in stemming the flow of Central American migrants headed north through Mexico to the US border.

In a joint statement following the meeting, the US and Mexico said the two leaders "committed to immigration policies that recognize the dignity of migrants and the imperative of orderly, safe and regular migration" and work together to address the root causes of migration, improve migration management and develop legal pathways for migration.

In a press briefing organized by the Wilson Center's Mexico Institute on Tuesday morning, Luis Rubio, Chairman of the Center for Research for Development (CIDAC) and the former President of Consejo Mexicano de Asuntos Internacionales (COMEXI) said that neither side went into the meeting with high expectations.

"My take is that both sides covered their bases well," he said. "They aimed low and achieved exactly what they aimed for."

Rubio added that both López Obrador and Biden chose their words carefully, with López Obrador in particular sending a message of "respect and sovereignty".

Avoiding conflict is primary objective of AMLO-Biden meeting, experts warn

"In that sense, both sides can say that all topics were broached, but no commitments were made," Rubio said. "[López Obrador] can now claim victory and move on." 

The two presidents also pledged that they would collaborate on responses to the Covid-19 pandemic, strengthen "supply chain resiliency" and address climate change issues.

López Obrador, for his part, came to the meeting with request that US authorities make Covid-19 vaccines available, at one point pointedly asking Biden whether he'd be "sending vaccines to Mexico?"

"What they agreed was that we need to work together to manage our recovery from all the ill-effects of Covid as we go forward," said Earl Anthony Wayne, a long-serving diplomat who served as US ambassador to Mexico between 2011 and 2015.

"There's a lot there to work with, but in and of itself there's not a lot of specifics in this," Wayne added. "That stands out when you look at the pathway that was announced last week between the US and Canada."

"I think it was understandable why López Obrador would ask, but equally understandable why President Biden would not be to honor it initially," Rudman explained.

"Demand for vaccines outstrips supply," he added. "It would be difficult for the President or anyone else to divert supply somewhere else. As production ramps up and more vaccines are available, at that point it is conceivable that the response would be different."

Monday's meeting, Rudman said, was aimed more at establishing lines of communication and cooperation, rather than achieving any concrete results.

"I think it was an effort to gradually run-up to addressing the issues raised in this conversation," Rudman said.

Security issues, however, were largely absent from the discussion, with the joint declaration only briefly mentioning a commitment from both countries to "improve law enforcement."

Security cooperation between the two countries has been strained following a recently adopted Mexican measure to curtail security cooperation with the US following the controversial arrest of former Mexican Defense Minister General Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda in October.

"It's going to take a lot of investment to rebuild confidence on both sides of the border," Wayne said. "There are serious problems in both countries tied to illicit commerce."

Ultimately, Wayne said, both countries will be forced to cooperate as a result of high levels of violence in Mexico and record numbers of drug overdoses in the United States.

"That needs to be dealt with by a comprehensive strategy. Neither country can solve it on their own. It makes sense to find says to go forward and deepen that cooperation if you care about your own citizens," he said. "It's going to be important and, on the agenda, but it's clear that in this first meeting, there was an effort to work on other priorities."

Biden's meeting with Obrador forms part of a wider effort to rebuild relationships with traditional US allies. Last week, Biden met with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

During the meeting, Biden noted that the relationship between the US and Mexico is extremely complex, but noted that in the past periods of close cooperation have had positive results.

"There's a long and complicated history between our nations, and haven't always been the perfect neighbors with one another, but we have seen over and over again the power and the purpose when we cooperate," Biden said.

Looking forward, Wayne said that both countries would be well-advised to avoid assuming that the other is somehow "intervening" in domestic affairs.

"In a sense, both countries intervene in the other country every day, because of the intensity of the relationship. It's a relationship that's domestic and international at the same time," he said. "It's a false dialogue to try turn this into that. As neighbors, that just happens."

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