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Mexico's president-elect says he'll stop US helicopter deal

Christopher Sherman, Associated Press

Mexico's President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is surrounded by the press as he leaves a hotel where he gave a press conference in Mexico City, Monday, July 9, 2018. Lopez Obrador campaigned on a promise to return to Mexico’s traditional foreign policy of nonintervention. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

MEXICO CITY (AP) -- President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Wednesday he will cancel the pending purchase by Mexico's navy of eight armed Lockheed Martin MH-60R helicopters from the U.S. government.

Lopez Obrador mentioned nixing the planned $1.2 billion deal as an example of extensive cost-cutting measures his government will undertake.

"That purchase is going to be cancelled because we can't make that expense," he said during a wide-ranging news conference.

In April, the U.S. State Department approved the sale of the helicopters, saying it would improve the security of a strategic regional partner. In its statement then, it said the helicopters would help Mexico fight criminal organizations.

When the deal went public, Lopez Obrador asked President Enrique Pena Nieto to cancel it. The leftist Lopez Obrador won Mexico's July 1 election in a landslide in his third try for the presidency and is to take office Dec. 1.

The State Department's Bureau of Political-Military Affairs said in an email that the 30-day congressional notification period for the proposed sale had been completed. The next step would be for Mexico to conclude a letter of offer and acceptance laying out the final details of the sale. Then it would go through Defense Department procurement.

Lopez Obrador's comments came two days before a scheduled meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo as well as other Cabinet members and Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's son-in-law and White House adviser.

During the campaign, Lopez Obrador said of the helicopter deal, "We don't want war or an arms race, we want peace, and peace comes from justice."

He said his team was also reaching out to Boeing about Mexico selling the presidential jet, a Boeing 787 that arrived in 2016. "I'm not going to get on that plane," he said.

Lopez Obrador spoke Wednesday after meeting with newly elected federal lawmakers. He said he presented them with his first dozen legislative priorities. Among them are changes to Mexico's education reform laws and classifying crimes involving corruption, fuel theft or election fraud as serious and without the possibility of bond.

Lopez Obrador campaigned against corruption and fuel theft from the state oil company's pipelines has become a growing criminal enterprise. Thieves illegally tapped pipelines 10,363 times last year