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Perry's suggestion to send U.S. troops south riles Mexican officials

By Catherine E. Shoichet and Rey Rodriguez, CNN
October 4, 2011 -- Updated 0955 GMT (1755 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Texas governor says fighting the drug trade "may require our military in Mexico"
  • Mexico's ambassador says the presence of U.S. troops "is not on the table"
  • The idea could have serious political and security consequences, analysts say
  • Analyst: Sending troops could undermine cooperation between the neighboring countries

(CNN) -- Texas Gov. Rick Perry's suggestion that the United States may send troops to fight Mexican drug cartels riled officials and spurred debate from analysts on both sides of the border Monday.

Mexico's top representative in the United States rejected the idea, which the Republican presidential candidate mentioned at a New Hampshire campaign stop Saturday.

Mexican Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan told reporters his country's longstanding opposition to the presence of American forces had not changed.

"The matter of the participation or presence of U.S. troops on Mexican soil is not on the table," Sarukhan said Monday. "It is not a component that forms part of the innovative approaches that Mexico and the United States have been using to confront transnational organized crime."

Perry said Saturday that leaders from Mexico and the United States should meet after next year's elections to address the deadly drug trade.

"It may require our military in Mexico working in concert with them to kill these drug cartels and to keep them off of our border," he said.

Analysts in the United States and Mexico said the controversial idea could have significant political consequences and security implications -- even as a political campaign proposal.

"It may be well-intentioned, but it has the potential of really undermining cooperation between the U.S. and Mexico," said Eric L. Olson, who studies security relationships between the neighboring countries at the Mexico Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.

The United States admits its drug market plays a role in fueling violence in Mexico, and has pledged $1.4 billion in assistance through the so-called Merida Initiative, which includes programs to help train Mexican military, police and justice officials.

"If there's a perception in Mexico that this is all designed somehow as a backdoor entry into Mexico by the U.S., if there's a perception that this is leading to the United States' direct intervention into Mexico, it puts at risk all those cooperative efforts," Olson said.

George W. Grayson -- author of "Mexico: Narco-Violence and a Failed State?" -- described Perry's proposal as "absolute, unadulterated nonsense."

"The first thing you'd have to fight is the Mexican Army if you sent troops in there. It's ludicrous," he said.

Even if they don't gain traction, Perry's comments will likely resonate in campaign rhetoric beyond the United States' borders, as presidential campaigns in Mexico are also kicking into high gear, Grayson said.

"Typically this is a time of nationalism and breast-beating by candidates. ... The politicians are the ones who are going to walk all over it. They're going to say, 'See, the gringos are coming after us,'" he said.

Several Mexican lawmakers -- who the country's constitution says would need to approve any presence of U.S. soldiers -- expressed concern about Perry's comments Monday.

Institutional Revolutionary Party Sen. Maria de los Angeles Moreno said U.S. troops in Mexico would be a clear "aggression."

"We must make an effort to face our own challenge, the violence of the criminals and the organized crime groups, but with our own forces and always maintaining the control of our territory," said Sen. Carlos Navarrete of the left-wing Democratic Revolution Party.

But security analyst Pablo Monzalvo said when it comes to U.S. involvement, some Mexican officials are prone to double speak -- allowing U.S.-led measures to occur even as they speak out against them. Earlier this year Mexico's foreign minister fielded questions from angry lawmakers who said U.S. surveillance of Mexican territory -- aimed at detecting criminal groups -- was illegal.

"There is interference...and this has been said publicly. But I ask myself what has been accomplished by ceding a certain amount of authority," Monzalvo said.

Perry, who was first elected governor of Texas in 2002, has faced criticism from opponents who have attacked his conservative bona fides on illegal immigration at a series of debates this fall.

"He's trying to compensate and say, 'Yeah, I'm really tough on Mexico,' but I think he's overcompensated," said Grayson, who is also a professor of government at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.

This isn't the first time Perry has called for greater force fighting drug cartels. Last year he asked U.S. President Barack Obama to send 1,000 additional National Guard troops to the border.

"We must show the cartels that Washington will no longer tolerate their terrorizing and criminalizing the border region," he wrote in a letter to the president.

Troops crossing the border, however, is a different matter, Olson said.

"No Mexican wants the U.S. to send its military troops. ... They welcome cooperation and they welcome the U.S. accepting responsibility for its role, but they don't welcome the notion of sending troops. That's crossing a line," he said.

CNN's Isabel Morales and Rachel Streitfeld contributed to this report.

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