Obama says time to break 'old stereotypes' with Mexico

MEXICO CITY (AFP) - President Barack Obama told Mexicans on Friday that it was time to break with "old stereotypes", vowing an equal partnership and voicing optimism that US immigration reform will pass this year.

In a speech to young people in the Mexican capital's Anthropology Museum, Mr Obama said he had come to Mexico "because it is time to put old mindsets aside", acknowledging that a "new Mexico is emerging".

"Despite all the bonds and the values that we share, despite all the people who claim heritage on both sides, our attitudes sometimes are trapped in old stereotypes," Mr Obama said on the second and final day of his visit here.

"Some Americans only see the Mexico that is depicted in sensational headlines of violence and border crossings," he said. "And let's admit it, some Mexicans think that America disrespects Mexico, or think that America is trying to impose itself on Mexican sovereignty, or just want to wall ourselves off."

Mr Obama, who sought to shift attention to trade ties despite years of drug violence, backed the reform efforts pushed by Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and vowed to broaden relations beyond the common threats they face.

"We are two equal partners, two sovereign nations. We must work together in mutual interest, in mutual respect, and if we do that both Mexico and the United States will prosper," he said, one day after talks with Mr Pena Nieto.

Mr Obama acknowledged that demand for illegal drugs in the United States was the root cause of much of the violence in Mexico, but he reiterated that he opposed legalising drugs as a solution.

Amid Mexican concerns about the illegal flow of weapons into the hands of drug cartels, Mr Obama vowed to "do everything in my power" to pass gun control reforms to "keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people".

Turning to another US domestic issue of strong interest in Mexico, Mr Obama said he was "absolutely convinced" that the US Congress would pass comprehensive immigration reform this year to bring 11 million undocumented workers out of the shadows.

He said the US will work with Mexico to "have a well regulated border" - a deep concern among Republicans in the US Congress.

"But I also want to work with the Mexican government because I believe that the long-term solution to the challenge of illegal immigration is a growing and prosperous Mexico," he said.

Mr Obama was heading to Costa Rica later on Friday to attend a summit with Central American leaders that will also focus on trade, immigration and the drug war.