WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama faces two challenges when he hosts Mexican President Felipe Calderon today: responding to an Arizona immigration law that deeply offends Mexico and pulling off his second state dinner without the dramatic security breaches that marred last year's dinner for India's prime minister.
Calderon, who has cooperated strongly with the United States on extraditing drug-trafficking suspects, can expect red-carpet treatment during his two-day visit, which has a relatively light and predictable agenda.
Besides the official dinner and a private meeting with Obama, their fourth bilateral visit and 11th meeting overall, Calderon will participate in a joint news conference at the White House and speak to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He'll address a joint session of Congress on Thursday.
The United States and Mexico are expected to announce symbolic agreements related to border and drug policy, the economy and clean energy. Calderon is likely to leave without resolving other long-standing issues important to both countries, however, such as overhauling U.S. immigration law and reopening the U.S. border to long-haul trucks from Mexico.
White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton said Obama "just looks forward to having such a strong ally here at the White House to strengthen our bond."
Andrew Selee, the director of the Mexico Institute at the nonpartisan Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, said the visit registered as "ho-hum" in terms of urgency or intrigue, "precisely because the two governments are already working so closely on a number of issues." That's not a bad thing for Obama right now as he strives for new U.N. sanctions against Iran and deals with the BP oil spill.
Selee said immigration would represent "the least substantive issue" in Obama's bilateral talks with Calderon, but would be "the most explosive in terms of their public statements."