Mexico's Top Diplomat Defends U.S. Drone Flights

March 18, 2011 - 5:15 AM

Obama-Calderon

President Barack Obama reaches to shake hands with Mexican President Felipe Calderon at a joint White House news conference on Thursday, March 3, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Mexico City (AP) - Mexico's top diplomat on Thursday defended allowing U.S. drones to fly over Mexican territory to hunt drug traffickers, while acknowledging the government has disagreements and "moments of tension" with Washington.

Foreign Relations Secretary Patricia Espinosa said the drone flights do not violate Mexico's sovereignty because they are "controlled" by Mexico and are unarmed.

After the flights were reported Wednesday, Mexico's National Security Council said U.S. unmanned aircraft have been sent over Mexico on surveillance missions when requested by the Mexican government. A U.S. official told The Associated Press that for each mission a Mexican official is present at the U.S. command center where a drone is remotely piloted.

Drone flights "do not violate (our) sovereignty because they are controlled by the government of Mexico and contribute to its capacity to fight organized crime," Espinosa said in a meeting with senators.

Facing criticism from legislators like Sen. Ricardo Monreal of the leftist Labor Party, who called Mexico's foreign policy "timid, weak, servile and subordinate" in dealing with Washington, Espinosa said the government does have differences with the U.S.

The two countries "have disagreements, there are moments of tension," Espinosa said. "But we also have a firm basis to address them in a frank, respectful and open manner."

President Felipe Calderon's administration has expressed anger over comments by U.S. officials in leaked diplomatic cables criticizing the Mexican military and law enforcement agencies.

Mexicans also were angered by reports that agents of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives allowed hundreds of weapons purchased in the U.S. to be smuggled into Mexico as part of an investigation into gunrunning by drug cartels.

Espinosa said that if the reports are true, "that would be unacceptable for our country, and we would demand that those responsible be punished with all the weight of the law."