Trump says he wants to designate Mexican drug cartels as terrorist groups
Comments seem to surprise Mexican officials, come after killing of 9 U.S. citizens
U.S. President Donald Trump said he would designate Mexican drug cartels as terrorist groups for their role in trafficking narcotics and people, prompting a speedy request for talks by Mexico.
"They will be designated ... I have been working on that for the last 90 days. You know, designation is not that easy, you have to go through a process, and we are well into that process," Trump said in an interview that aired on Tuesday with former Fox News host Bill O'Reilly.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Wednesday rejected the "interventionism" of Trump.
Lopez Obrador said Mexico would take up the issue after the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday and that he had asked his foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard, to lead talks.
"Co-operation, yes, intervention, no" Lopez Obrador said in a morning news conference when asked about Trump's comments.
Earlier, Mexico's foreign ministry issued a statement saying it would quickly seek a high-level meeting with U.S. State Department officials to address the legal designation, as well as the flow of arms and money to organized crime.
"The foreign minister will establish contact with his counterpart, Mike Pompeo, in order to discuss this very important issue for the bilateral agenda," the ministry said.
Once a particular group is designated as a terrorist organization, it is illegal under U.S. law for people in the U.S. to knowingly offer support, and its members cannot enter the country and may be deported.
'We will be firm'
Financial institutions that become aware they have funds connected to the group must block the money and alert the U.S. Treasury Department.
Reacting to the comments from Trump, Ebrard said in a tweet that Mexico would never tolerate any move that would violate its national sovereignty.
"We will be firm," Ebrard added.
Earlier this month, Trump offered in a tweet to help Mexico "wage WAR on the drug cartels and wipe them off the face of the earth" in the aftermath of the bloodiest attack on U.S. citizens in Mexico in years.
Three women and six children of dual U.S.-Mexican nationality who were part of a breakaway community of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) were killed in an ambush in northern Mexico on Nov. 4. Mexican authorities said they may have been victims of mistaken identity amid confrontations among drug gangs in the area.
Alex LeBaron, a former Mexican congressman and relative of some of the victims, rejected the idea on Twitter of a U.S. "invasion."
"We have already been invaded by terrorist cartels," he wrote. "We demand real coordination between both countries … both countries are responsible for the rising trade in drugs, weapons and money."
The LeBaron extended family has often been in conflict with drug traffickers in Chihuahua and victims' relatives said the killers must have known who they were targeting.