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Michelle Obama Debuts Solo Diplomacy in Mexico City

5 years ago
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First Lady Michelle Obama flies to Mexico City on Tuesday for her first solo official international trip, which will include events with youths, women, and dinner with Mexican President Felipe Calderon and his wife, Margarita Zavala.
That dinner will be at Los Pinos, the official Mexican presidential residence. President Obama and Mrs. Obama will reciprocate on a grand scale when they host a state dinner for Calderon and Mrs. Zavala at the White House on May 19.
Mrs. Obama has never been to Mexico, and the Tuesday-Thursday visit will draw enormous interest.
"It will be on the front pages of every single newspaper in Mexico," Mexico's ambassador to the U.S., Arturo Sarukhan, told me when we talked on Thursday in the Mexican Embassy a few blocks from the White House.
Mrs. Obama's stay in Mexico City is designed to emphasize the close relationship between the two countries, even as leaders of both nations wrestle with the cross-border problem of drug use in the U.S. and escalating violence among drug cartels in Mexico.
"I think it underscores the importance that Mexico has for the United States and for the Obama administration, that the First Lady's first solo international trip is going to Mexico," a senior White House official told me on Thursday.
Besides the Los Pinos dinner, Mrs. Obama will also tour Mexico's famous Museum of Anthropology, spending time with Mrs. Zavala, who met with Mrs. Obama at the White House on Feb. 25. Mrs. Zavala was in Washington then to attend a conference on reducing demand for drugs -- one of her major issues. Mrs. Obama will also meet with students and on Friday the White House said she will deliver an address at the Universidad Iberoamericana.
(See below for Mrs. Obama's full schedule.)
The two first ladies are close in age -- Mrs. Obama is 46, and Mrs. Zavala is 42. Both are lawyers (Mrs. Zavala is a former member of Mexico's Congress), and both are mothers of young children. Both basically gave up their professional careers when their fast-rising husbands took on their respective presidencies.
Sarukhan told me Mrs. Zavala also has on her agenda obesity and diabetes issues, sharing "a common concern with one of (Mrs.Obama's) signature programs." Mrs. Obama is the lead on the Obama administration fight to reduce childhood obesity, a problem that plagues the U.S and Mexico.
"Mrs. Obama's international agenda will amplify the President's commitment to advancing mutual interests, mutual respect and mutual responsibility between nations and peoples around the world," the White House said in announcing Mrs. Obama's Mexico trip in March. "During this visit, Mrs. Obama will have the opportunity to engage the citizens of Mexico, particularly young people, and build on her recent conversation with Mexican First Lady Margarita Zavala de Calderon on the issues of education and economic advancement in both countries."

News of Mrs. Obama's stops started coming out earlier in the week. On Thursday, CNNExpansion, a Spanish language Web site and a joint venture between CNN and Expansion, a business magazine, reported some details of Mrs. Obama's schedule.
"The agenda is divided between activities with the U.S. Embassy and Los Pinos.
On Sunday, El Universal, a Spanish language Mexico City newspaper, reported that the visit will take place under heavy security.
"It will be interesting to watch Michelle Obama, who chose Mexico as her first foreign trip alone," the paper said. Mrs. Obama will discuss with Mexico's first couple, the paper said, "issues related to infant health, obesity and addiction, among other topics. It should not be forgotten that the visit takes place in a context where Mexico and the United States are seeking to reinforce anti-drug cooperation."
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton led a group of top Obama national security officials to Mexico City last month, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael Mullen, to discuss the Merida Initiative, a partnership between the U.S., Mexico, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Central American nations to fight drug trafficking and organized crime. The trip came just after three people connected to the U.S. consulate in Juarez were murdered.
Said Mrs. Clinton on March 23, the murders "were but the latest horrible reminder of how much we have to do together."

Contributing: Emily Schmall in Mexico City

Updated on Friday morning . . .

The White House released the following statement as well as Mrs. Obama's official schedule for her visit:

In recognition of the deep ties between the United States and Mexico, First Lady Michelle Obama will visit Mexico City, Mexico, April 13-15, on her first solo official trip as First Lady. During this visit, Mrs. Obama will have the opportunity to engage the citizens of Mexico, particularly young people, and build on her recent conversation with Mexican First Lady Margarita Zavala around areas of interest to both first ladies.

The following is Mrs. Obama's public schedule including pooled and open press events:

Tuesday, April 13 -- First Lady Michelle Obama will arrive at Benito Juarez International Airport in Mexico City. Mrs. Obama's evening arrival will be open press, however space is limited.

Wednesday, April 14 -- Mrs. Obama will start her day by traveling to Los Pinos -- the residence of President Calderón and Mrs. Zavala -- where she will meet privately with Mrs. Zavala. This event will be closed press.

Upon conclusion of her visit at Los Pinos, Mrs. Obama will accept Mrs. Zavala's invitation to tour the Museo Nacional de Antropologia (National Museum of Anthropology). The museum is a centerpiece of Mexican culture and history housing the largest collection of ancient Mexican pieces in the world. This event attended by both first ladies will be covered by a pre-determined pool of American and Mexican press.

Then Mrs. Obama will visit with students and teachers at Escuela Siete de Enero, a public elementary school that serves local low-income students ages 6-12. The school also participates in a mentoring program with the American School Foundation (ASF), an academically rigorous, international, university preparatory school offering students from diverse backgrounds an American independent education, in Mexico City. Mrs. Obama's event will be covered by a pre-determined pool of American and Mexican press.

Mrs. Obama will then travel to the Universidad Iberoamericana, a multidisciplinary institution serving over 11,000 students including 800 graduate students, to address invited university and high school students from in and around Mexico City. Mrs. Zavala will attend Mrs. Obama's address as a guest of honor. This afternoon event is open press, however space is limited.

In the evening, Mrs. Obama will return to Los Pinos to attend a reception with women leaders organized by Mrs. Zavala. Following the reception, Mrs. Obama will have dinner hosted by Mexican President Felipe Calderón and Mrs. Zavala. This event is closed press.

Thursday, April 15 -- Mrs. Obama will begin her day by thanking United States Embassy employees and their families. This event will be closed press.

Then Mrs. Obama will host a group of young leaders at La Hacienda de los Morales, an event center with a rich history dating back to the 16th century, for a breakfast roundtable discussion. Mrs. Obama will ask these men and women about their experiences and encourage them to continue their leadership in the community. Mrs. Obama's event will be covered by a pre-determined pool of American and Mexican press.

Upon conclusion of the roundtable breakfast, Mrs. Obama will depart Mexico City.

Thursday, April 15 -- On the return trip from Mexico, the First Lady will stop in San Diego, California, for a Let's Move! event. Further details on this event will be circulated next week.

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