By Dave Graham
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) -Mexico on Thursday rejected U.S. plans to build new sections of wall at the U.S.-Mexico border as top officials from both countries met in the Mexican capital to discuss immigration and security.
Before sitting down with U.S. officials including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador condemned the latest wall plan as a "step backwards".
Amid an increase in the number of people crossing into the U.S. from Mexico, the United States said it would build additional sections of border wall in Starr County, Texas, carrying forward a signature policy of the Trump administration.
At the talks, officials pledged to step up cooperation to combat drug trafficking, organized crime and to ease migratory pressures on the border. Afterwards, Mexico's Foreign Minister Alicia Barcena underlined Mexico's opposition to the wall.
"We believe in bridges, not in walls," she said, speaking at a press conference alongside Blinken and Mayorkas.
Lopez Obrador has praised U.S. President Joe Biden for not building more border wall during his administration. The barrier was a major bone of contention between the United States and Mexico during Donald Trump's presidency.
The U.S. government said Thursday's action did not deviate from Biden's opposition to the wall because money that was allocated during Trump's term in 2019 had to be spent now.
Barcena indicated the U.S. funds would not necessarily be used for erecting walls.
"I understand it's not going to be via walls, it'll be via technologies, it'll be via other kinds of installations," she said. "I think this is what Secretary Mayorkas was kind enough to explain to us, because obviously we expressed our concern."
The U.S. delegation had explained the budget situation and that the measures did not represent a new policy, she said.
Still, 2024 is presidential election year in both the United States and Mexico and the resurgence of the wall could become a significant talking point on both sides of the border.
Lopez Obrador blamed the extreme right of the Republican Party for pushing the administration of Biden, a Democrat, to approve construction of new sections of the wall.
Blinken said he had an "extremely positive, productive conversation" with Lopez Obrador, and expressed confidence that Mexico would help the U.S. on the opioid fentanyl, which is illicitly manufactured and a major cause of overdoses, according to U.S. health authorities.
During his meeting with Lopez Obrador, Blinken thanked him for Mexico's efforts leading to the Sept. 15 extradition of Ovidio Guzman, a son of incarcerated kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said.
U.S. officials have depicted Ovidio and some of his brothers as major traffickers of fentanyl to the U.S.
However, roadside banners that appeared this week stated the Guzman siblings have banned production and sales of fentanyl in their stronghold, the northern state of Sinaloa.
Who is most responsible for the fentanyl problem is contentious. Mexican Security Minister Rosa Icela Rodriguez told the press conference that Mexico does not produce fentanyl, and only serves as a transit point for the drug going north.
Still, Barcena said clandestine fentanyl labs had cropped up in Mexico, and were being rooted out.
(Reporting by Dave Graham; Additional reporting by Ismail Shakil and Simon LewisEditing by Howard Goller, Sandra Maler and Grant McCool)