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Biden and AMLO Hold Talks at Tense Moment in U.S.-Mexico Ties

Disputes over energy and Ukraine as well as an increase in migrants at the border will give the leaders plenty to talk about.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
U.S. President Joe Biden listens to Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
U.S. President Joe Biden listens to Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
U.S. President Joe Biden listens as Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador speaks during the first North American Leaders’ Summit since 2016 at the White House in Washington on Nov. 18, 2021. Alex Wong/Getty Images

Correction, May 2, 2022: This newsletter incorrectly describes a bill that López Obrador’s government wanted to pass to reform Mexico’s energy markets. At the time of publication, the bill had been struck down by Congress.

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, looking at the meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, new U.S. funding for Ukraine, and more news worth following from around the world.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.

Correction, May 2, 2022: This newsletter incorrectly describes a bill that López Obrador’s government wanted to pass to reform Mexico’s energy markets. At the time of publication, the bill had been struck down by Congress.

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, looking at the meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, new U.S. funding for Ukraine, and more news worth following from around the world.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Biden and AMLO Hold Talks

U.S. President Joe Biden meets virtually with his Mexican counterpart, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, today, with the two leaders expected to address migration, security, and economic cooperation as well as prepare for the Summit of the Americas in June.

The two countries made progress in security cooperation in October 2021 with the announcement of the Bicentennial Framework for Security, Public Health, and Safe Communities, but there are still plenty of challenges the two men must address.

Migration. Today’s meeting comes as U.S. border authorities reported record numbers of migrants at the Mexican border during the month of March, with agents reporting processing migrants 221,000 times that month. The Biden administration has sought to allow more migrants to file their asylum claims on U.S. soil by ending a Trump-era policy, known as Title 42, that allowed border agents to refuse entry to migrants as a coronavirus prevention measure.

If recent economic figures from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are any indication, the number of migrants approaching the U.S. border is unlikely to ebb in the coming months. The IMF’s latest World Economic Outlook projects economic growth of just 2.5 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2022, the lowest for any region worldwide.

Energy. López Obrador’s government has been at odds with the Biden administration over its energy reform plans, where it seeks to increase state control of Mexico’s electric power market from 38 percent to 54 percent. As FP’s Catherine Osborn wrote in Latin America Brief this month, the move would amount to “the biggest conflict yet” between Mexico and the United States under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

As well as potentially cutting U.S. companies out of Mexico’s market, the move also has implications for Mexico’s climate policy, with increased private sector participation since 2013 leading to a quadrupling of Mexico’s renewable energy capacity. (Mexico’s state-owned power plants tend to burn fuel oil or coal.)

U.S. climate envoy John Kerry visited Mexico in March, his second trip in two months, to negotiate with López Obrador on the issue, but the Mexican president has shown no appetite to back down.

Kerry, speaking to FP editor in chief Ravi Agrawal at this week’s FP Virtual Climate Summit, said he was working with Mexico and other less-developed countries to help them reach 65 percent renewable energy production but that “they’ve got to be willing to try to make that happen. We can’t do it for them.”

Ukraine. López Obrador’s neutral position on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is more of an annoyance than a strategic obstacle for Biden, but it does highlight the global divide between the West and the rest in responding to the war. López Obrador has at least condemned the invasion while, in the same breath, condemning previous invasions of Mexican territory by France, Spain, and the United States.

Gen. Glen VanHerck, head of the North America-spanning U.S. Northern Command, has accused Mexico of being too soft on Russian espionage activity. On March 24, VanHerck told a U.S. Senate committee that Mexico “currently hosts the largest number of Russian spies in the world,” a claim that López Obrador neither confirmed nor denied, saying he did not “hold any information” on the subject.

A left-wing group of Mexican parliamentarians created further tensions by forming a “Mexico-Russia friendship group” in the middle of March. The move was condemned by U.S. ambassador to Mexico Ken Salazar after his Russian counterpart addressed Mexican lawmakers last month.

“The Russian ambassador was here yesterday making a lot of noise about how Mexico and Russia are so close,” Salazar said. “This, sorry, can never happen. It can never happen.”


What We’re Following Today

Kyiv targeted during Guterres visit. Russian cruise missiles struck Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, on Thursday, shortly after U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The Ukrainian leader said the attack “says a lot about Russia’s true attitude to global institutions, about the efforts of the Russian leadership to humiliate the U.N. and everything that the organization represents.”

Guterres had been speaking with Zelensky following talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin this week in what has become an unusually active role for the U.N. chief. FP’s Colum Lynch, in an in-depth report on Guterress role in managing the crisis, said the war has given the risk-averse former Portuguese politician “an opportunity to reshape a secretary-generalship that has been defined by caution, amid rising tension among the U.N.’s most powerful nations, particularly the United States, China, and Russia.”

Biden announces Ukraine boost. Biden has asked Congress for a dramatic increase in funding to Ukraine, requesting $33 billion in military, economic, and humanitarian assistance. The funds include more than $20 billion to support Ukraine’s war effort, which, added to the $4 billion already committed in military aid, would make Ukraine’s de facto military budget just outside the top 10 military spenders globally—ahead of Iran, Israel, and Canada.

Sharif in Saudi Arabia. New Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif meets with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Sharif chose Saudi Arabia, home to more than 2 million Pakistanis, as his first foreign trip since becoming the leader of Pakistan’s government following the ouster of Imran Kahn this month. The meeting comes a day after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also paid a visit to the de facto Saudi leader.


Keep an Eye On

Palestine’s looming food crisis. The Palestinian territories face a severe food crisis as the war in Ukraine dramatically increases the price of staples in the already food insecure West Bank and Gaza. As FP’s Robbie Gramer and Christina Lu report, aid agencies are sounding the alarm amid fears that their aid budgets will be cut as donors seek to provide relief to Ukraine.

Kishida on tour. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida begins a five-nation tour of Southeast Asia and Europe today, where he’s expected to meet with the leaders of Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, Italy, and the United Kingdom over the course of eight days. Kishida’s trip will address “regional and global issues, including the situations in Ukraine, the East and South China Seas, North Korea, and Myanmar,” Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said on Thursday.


Odds and Ends

The German city of Göttingen will allow swimmers to go topless, regardless of gender, in a first for public pools in the country. The measure, which will only apply on weekends, stemmed from a dispute last year when a swimmer, who identified as male, was asked to leave a pool for not covering up. 

The move is in line with Germany’s Freikörperkultur or FKK movement, which celebrates body positivity and nudism in bathing and leisure activities.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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