United States President Donald Trump repeatedly urged his Mexican counterpart, Enrique Peña Nieto, to stop declaring that Mexico would not pay for a border wall during a telephone call in January.
Trump’s insistence was revealed in a transcript of the call, published today by the Washington Post, which also offered more insight into the relationship between the two leaders and their stance on a range of issues.
It took place on January 27, just a week after Trump’s inauguration.
During the hour-long conversation the pair discussed the proposed border wall, trade, migration issues, transnational crime and strategies to defeat Mexican drug cartels, among other issues. While parts of the call had been previously disclosed, the transcript reveals the conversation in its entirety.
Perhaps most significantly, Trump was insistent that the Mexican president stop publicly declaring that Mexico would not pay for the border wall.
After Peña Nieto said, “. . . my position has been and will continue to be very firm saying that Mexico cannot pay for that wall,” Trump responded, “But you cannot say that to the press. The press is going to go with that and I cannot live with that.”
Trump reiterated his point, stressing, “I have to have Mexico pay for the wall — I have to. I have been talking about it for a two-year period.”
He even threatened to cease negotiations if Peña Nieto didn’t heed his advice.
“. . . If you are going to say that Mexico is not going to pay for the wall, then I don’t want to meet with you guys anymore because I cannot live with that.”
However, in an apparent realization that forcing Mexico to pay for the wall was not realistic and alternative funding would have to be found, Trump instead pressured Peña Nieto to agree to say “we will work it out,” when questioned on the issue.
“We should both say, we will work it out. It will work out in the formula somehow,” Trump suggested. “As opposed to you saying, ‘We will not pay’ and me saying, ‘We will not pay.’”
He also said there were more significant issues, opening the door for a compromise and an opportunity to develop a more positive relationship.
“From an economic issue, it’s the least important thing we’re talking about, but psychologically, it means something, so let us just say, we will work it out.”
Peña Nieto said the wall “is an issue related to the dignity of Mexico and goes to the national pride of my country” but he also suggested that they find “a creative way to jump over this obstacle” and “move forward on other issues that are positive for both of our countries.”
While Trump considered that a fair proposal, he had already spent a large portion of the first part of the call telling Peña Nieto that the U.S. could no longer accept the loss of jobs and money to Mexico.
He spoke harshly about the US $60-billion trade deficit the U.S. has with Mexico in what the Washington Post described as a “heated exchange” and said that in lieu of meeting with him (as he did during his campaign) he simply wanted to impose a substantial tax on products crossing the border into the United States, without any prior discussion.
“It could be 10% or 15% or it could be 35% for some products that, for example, are jobs ripped from their foundation and moved to Mexico.” Later in the call he said, “The powers of taxation are tremendous for the president of the United States.”
However, he said that his advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner had persuaded him to meet with Peña Nieto because of the good relationship he has with Mexican Foreign Secretary Luis Videgaray, who he described as “a very smart man.”
Turning to the war on drugs, Trump described cartel leaders as “pretty tough hombres” and even seemed to make an offer to send U.S. military forces into Mexico to combat them.
“Our military will knock them out like you never thought of . . . . Your citizens are being killed . . . your police officers are being shot in the head, and your children are being killed. And we will knock them out.”
While Peña Nieto agreed that the two countries should work together on the issue, he countered that drug trafficking in Mexico is “largely supported by the illegal amounts of money and weapons coming from the United States.”
At other moments during the call Trump adopted a softer, more conciliatory tone telling his counterpart “you and I will always be friends” and that if they reached agreement on their differences over border and trade issues, “We will almost become the fathers of our country — almost, not quite, okay?”
He also said, “It is you and I against the world, Enrique, do not forget,” and seemingly oblivious that Peña Nieto’s approval rating was just 12% at the time — the lowest presidential approval rating in decades — also said: “I want you to be so popular that your people will call for a constitutional amendment in Mexico so that you can run again for another six years.”
The Washington Post also obtained a transcript of a call between Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
That call, in which they discussed a contentious refugee swap deal, exceeded the call with Peña Nieto in terms of hostility with Trump saying, “Putin was a pleasant call” but “This is ridiculous.”
Source: Washington Post (en)
CORRECTION: An earlier version of the story incorrectly stated the Mexico-U.S. trade deficit was US $60 million.