05/17/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Obama: Reduce Drug Trafficking To "Localized Criminal Problem"

President Barack Obama, at a joint press conference with his Mexican counterpart Thursday, said that the goal of the joint U.S.-Mexican war against drug cartels is to return drug trafficking to a "localized criminal problem."

In a break with past presidents, Obama acknowledged that U.S. demand for drugs was fueling the violence. "I will not pretend that this is Mexico's responsibility alone. Demand for these drugs in the United States is what is helping to keep these cartels in business," said Obama.

Mexican Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan said last weekend that the U.S. should seriously debate legalizing marijuana in order to curb violence and reduce the power of the cartels. Instead, Obama pledged a tougher, coordinated onslaught against the cartels.

In doing so, he downplayed the prospect of an outright victory.

"Are we going to eliminate all drug flows? Are we going to eliminate all guns coming over the border? That's not a realistic objective," said Obama. "What is a realistic objective is to reduce it so significantly, so drastically that it becomes once again a localized criminal problem, as opposed to a major structural problem that threatens stability in communities along those borders and that increases corruption and threatens the rule of law."

Obama pledged to slow the flow of assault weapons southward across the border. Mexican President Felipe Calderon called on Obama to reinstate the ban on assault weapons, saying that its lapse has led to a major increase in the availability of assault weapons in Mexico. Obama acknowledged that more than 90 percent of the guns recovered in Mexico originated in the United States.

Obama also pledged to work toward "dismantling of financial structures" built up by the cartels, flush with profits from moving marijuana, cocaine and heroin into the U.S. market.

In order to go after cartel money, Obama said, he designated three cartels as "significant foreign narcotics drug traffickers under U.S. law, clearing the way for our Treasury Department, together with Mexico, to freeze their assets and subject them to sanctions."