updated 3/10/2007 4:19:21 PM ET 2007-03-10T21:19:21

Mexican President Felipe Calderon said Saturday the threats his government has received from drug traffickers won’t stop its nearly nationwide military crackdown, and he called on the United States to do more to battle drugs within its own borders.

In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press aboard his presidential plane, Calderon said he would push President Bush to respect migrant rights and do more in his own drug battle when the two meet on Tuesday in the colonial city of Merida, Mexico.

“We are, at the end of the day, putting our lives on the line in this battle, and the United States has to come up with something that is more than symbolic gestures, much more,” Calderon said.

Calderon said members of the federal government have received threats from drug traffickers.

“There have been a lot of threats—whether they have been false or real—but they won’t stop us from taking action,” he said during his return from a visit to southern Chiapas state, where he celebrated his first 100 days in office.

Since taking office on Dec. 1, Calderon has sent thousands of troops and federal police to areas controlled by drug traffickers, including Mexican cities along the U.S. border, his home state of Michoacan, and the Pacific coast resort of Acapulco.

He also began extraditing major drug lords to face justice north of the border, something that the United States had urged Mexico to do for years.

Those actions were aimed at halting a bloody turf war between cartels that has included beheadings of rival gang members, shootouts and executions.

Calderon said that so far, the crackdown has allowed the Mexican government to retake control of several cities and return “basic levels of security” to those who live there. And he said there is evidence that drug killings have been reduced.

U.S. ‘has a lot to do to regain respect’
But he said the U.S. must take responsibility for contributing to the problem.

“Mexico can’t diminish the availability of drugs while the U.S. hasn’t reduced its demand. It’s an elemental equation,” he said.

He welcomed Bush’s visit to Latin America and urged the U.S. leader to make the region a priority once again. Immigration reform and other important issues for Mexico took a back seat to security in the wake of Sept. 11.

“There’s a Mexican saying: ‘Better late than never,”’ Calderon said.

Bush’s visit to Mexico will cap a five-nation tour of Latin America , a trip aimed in part at countering Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez’s growing influence in the region.

However, Calderon—a close ally of the U.S. who has sparred with Chavez—rejected the idea that he would lead the region’s anti-Venezuela campaign.

“I am not interested in playing a role with Bush in that aspect,” he said, adding: “The United States has a lot to do to regain respect in Latin America.”

‘Mexico should be prosperous’
The Mexican leader lambasted the U.S. decision to extend walls along its southern border, arguing that both countries should focus on improving the Mexican economy so that millions don’t have to seek work in the U.S.

“Mexico should be prosperous and not require its people to leave,” he said, but added that “no amount of jobs or investment can stop it completely.”

He said he supported Bush’s proposal to allow Mexicans to seek temporary U.S. work visas, and he promised to fight to protect migrants from a “culture of mistreatment” in the U.S.

He said there is no evidence of terrorists operating in Mexico, despite a recent Internet threat against countries exporting oil to the United States. He said Mexico takes every threat seriously, but has no reason to believe it would be a target for attacks, mostly because it refused to support the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

“Mexico has only been respectful of other countries,” he said.

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