President Enrique Peña Nieto held talks yesterday with senior White House advisor Jared Kushner and other United States government officials in Mexico City after relations cooled two weeks ago.
The envoy’s visit came after a testy telephone conversation between Peña Nieto and United States President Donald Trump and was widely seen as a move designed to smooth over strained bilateral relations.
The two presidents agreed to cancel a planned face-to-face meeting as a result of the call, during which they clashed over Trump’s border wall proposal and the source of its funding.
Foreign Secretary Luis Videgaray and Economy Secretary Ildefonso Guajardo also attended yesterday’s meeting as did U.S. Department of State official Kimberly Breier.
According to a statement from the Secretariat of Foreign Affairs (SRE), Kushner relayed a message from President Trump about “the importance of continuing to progress on joint initiatives.”
It also said that officials from the two countries “agreed to work to achieve agreements beneficial to both nations.”
Kushner, who is Trump’s son-in-law, and the other U.S. officials also attended an earlier separate meeting with Videgaray.
The former, despite having no known previous foreign affairs experience, has taken on an expansive portfolio in the field in Trump’s administration including substantial responsibility for U.S.-Mexico relations.
He and Videgaray have reportedly cultivated a close personal relationship that often circumvents official diplomatic channels.
The influence of U.S. Ambassador Roberta Jacobson was reduced as a consequence and some analysts say that it was likely a factor in her resignation announcement last week. She was not invited to yesterday’s meetings, a U.S. official told CNN.
Specific topics discussed at the two meetings included border security, transnational crime, orderly and safe migration, the development of Central America and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the SRE said.
The SRE statement also said that any possible future meeting between the two presidents “will depend on the level of progress achieved on agreements related to the comprehensive relationship [between the two countries], including NAFTA . . . security, migration and economic cooperation.”
Peña Nieto and Trump have not held formal, in-person bilateral talks since Trump took office in January last year although they met on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Germany in July.
The pair previously clashed in another tense telephone call shortly after Trump’s inauguration during which the U.S. president repeatedly urged Peña Nieto to stop declaring that Mexico would not pay for a border wall.
The NAFTA renegotiation process, uncertainty about legislation relating to young U.S. immigrants known as dreamers and Trump’s tendency to use Twitter to voice his opinion on contentious bilateral issues such as drug trafficking have further strained the relationship between Mexico and the U.S.
The seventh round of NAFTA talks concluded in Mexico City this week but were somewhat overshadowed by Trump’s announcement that he plans to introduce tariffs on steel and aluminum, a move that could cause Mexico and other countries to retaliate and trigger a trade war.
However, in a Twitter post Monday he appeared to suggest that Mexico and Canada may be granted an exemption, “if a new and fair NAFTA agreement is signed.”