The "insatiable" American demand for illegal drugs is part of the problem, she says, and hints at changes ahead in US drug-control policies.
The United States is at least as responsible as Mexico for the violent drug wars that are roiling its southern neighbor because of an insatiable US market for narcotics, the failure to stop weapons smuggling southward and a three-decade "war" on drugs that "has not worked," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday.
"Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade. Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police officers, soldiers and civilians," Mrs. Clinton said.
"How could anyone conclude any differently? . . . I feel very strongly we have co-responsibility," she said.
Clinton's blunt remarks as she flew to Mexico Wednesday were the clearest by any senior US official in recent memory that American habits and government policies have stoked the drug trade and a spreading epidemic of criminal violence in northern Mexico.
They are likely to be well received by top officials in the government of Mexican President Felipe Calderón, which is battling rising lawlessness and has called on the Obama administration to do more to stop the flow of guns and cash from the United States into Mexico.
Clinton is meeting with Mr. Calderón and his top aides, including security and law enforcement chiefs, during a two-day trip that will be dominated by the cartel-related killings that have left more than 7,000 Mexicans dead since January 2008.
The secretary of state acknowledged that the violence is "horrific," even as she stressed that hers is not a single-issue visit. Also on the agenda are trade disputes, clean energy and climate change, and the global economic recession.
Clinton's remarks continue the more humble tone toward the rest of the world that President Barack Obama has adopted, in contrast with the Bush administration, which often was seen as hectoring friends and adversaries alike.