President Barack Obama said this week the US government has offered help to Mexico in its search for the missing Ayotzinapa Normal School students, touching on the raw subject of US aid in Mexico amid persistent drug-war violence.
"We've offered assistance in tracking down exactly what happened, our forensic capabilities, our capacity to get to the bottom of exactly what happened," Obama said in an interview that aired Tuesday on US Spanish-language network Telemundo.
"This does affect us. Mexico is our friend and our neighbor," Obama added. "We want them to thrive."
The statements were the first suggestion made by the US president that any direct aid had been offered to Mexico over the case of the disappeared students from the rural teachers college in the southern state of Guerrero. But both governments on Wednesday said they had no specific details on any possible investigative help the US has lent to the search.
A US embassy spokesman in Mexico City told VICE News there was no additional comment on Obama's interview. "The president said what the president said and that's it," said spokesman Arturo Montaño.
At Los Pinos, the presidential residence in Mexico City, a spokesman said Wednesday there was still no official information of any offer from the US to Mexico over the Ayotzinapa investigation.
Mexico's government has been rattled by the September 26 attacks of local police forces in Guerrero against the unarmed group from the Ayotzinapa school, which resulted in seven confirmed deaths and now 42 students who remain disappeared.
Authorities say executioners working for the Guerreros Unidos cartel killed and incinerated "43 or 44" young men that night, but parents and Argentine forensics experts have doubted the story.
Critics have called the US government slow to respond to swelling public outcry over the missing students on both sides of the border, just as protesters in Mexico have also described president Peña's initial response to the tragedy as indifferent or lacking.
For weeks, scores of people in major cities in the US and Mexico have marched and demonstrated against what many have dubbed a "crime of the state." Some have called for Peña Nieto to resign.
The first US acknowledgement of the Ayotzinapa case came 11 days after the initial attacks, when a US State Department spokeswoman mostly brushed off direct questions about US military aid to Mexico under the multi-billion-dollar Merida Initiative.
"I [was] just wondering [if] you have any comments with regard to the recent massacres committed in the state of Guerrero by the police, state police, and what the government is doing about it, trying to cover up some incidents and trying to be quiet in order to stop the criticism over the President Enrique Pena Nieto?" a reporter asked at the State Department on Oct. 7.
"We understand that Mexican authorities have begun an investigation, so we'd certainly refer you to them otherwise for more information on the investigation," spokeswoman Jen Psaki responded during that day's press briefing.
A reporter pressed with a question about US aid and training to Mexico and its possible implications for a separate alleged extrajudicial military massacre that occurred in late June. Psaki responded: "Obviously, there's an investigation that Mexican authorities are undergoing at this point in time."
Telemundo reporter Jose Díaz-Balart directly asked Obama if the US should "reconsider" the more than $2.1 billion in aid appropriated to Mexico since 2008, but the president avoided saying yes or no.
On November 26, Obama and Peña Nieto reportedly discussed the missing students case over the phone. President Obama called the attacks against the students "atrocious and barbaric." They reportedly also talked about Obama's plan for executive action on immigration reform, and the issue of undocumented migrant children.
The call came a day after 14 US senators addressed a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry to express "profound concern" for the lives of the 43 missing students.
"We urge you to do everything possible to support the Mexican government by making additional investigative and forensic resources available to assist in locating the missing students," the letter read, adding the senators were concerned "the situation in Guerrero is symptomatic of a larger issue that has been endemic to Mexico in recent years."
"This is a chronic problem of narco traffickers in some case taking over entire towns or entire regions," Obama said Tuesday. "Mexico is partner for us and we've got to make sure that we strengthen the criminal justice system, the investigative capacities."
Follow Daniel Hernandez on Twitter @longdrivesouth.