United States President Donald Trump’s proposal to build a border wall “is not a friendly gesture,” President Enrique Peña Nieto said yesterday in an interview with a Chilean newspaper.
But the president also told El Mercurio that the construction of the wall “is an internal policy issue in which the people and the government of the United States will have to take a sovereign decision.”
In Chile to attend the swearing-in ceremony of President Sebastián Piñera, Peña Nieto added, “Mexico is very grateful to the countries of Latin America for all the support that they have given us on countless occasions.”
Foreign Affairs Secretary Luis Videgaray, who accompanied the president to Chile, weighed in on the border wall issue Saturday via his Twitter account, referencing a recent testy telephone conversation between Trump and Peña Nieto.
“In the February 20 call, President Enrique Peña Nieto firmly reiterated what we Mexicans have always said: we will never pay, in any way, for a border wall. Under that premise, we will continue to work constructively on the bilateral relationship with the United States,” he wrote.
The source of the wall’s funding has been a major source of contention between the two nations and the issue flared up again in last month’s telephone conversation, leading to the cancelation of a meeting between the two presidents.
At a rally for a Republican congressional candidate in Pennsylvania Saturday, Trump revealed some further detail about the call after being spurred on by the crowd chanting “build that wall.”
When Peña Nieto — described by Trump as “a really nice guy” — said that he wanted him to make a statement that Mexico would not pay for the wall, the U.S. president told Republican Party supporters that he responded by saying:
“Are you crazy? I am not making that statement.”
Trump ended the phone call, saying, “Bye, bye. There is no way I’m making that deal.”
The tension evident in the call is reflective of a strained relationship between the neighboring countries that has been complicated not just by the border wall issue but also by contentious NAFTA renegotiation talks, Trump’s hardline rhetoric towards Mexico and other differences on bilateral issues such as drug trafficking and immigration.
Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, met with Peña Nieto and other senior government officials in Mexico City last week in what was widely seen as a move to smooth over strained bilateral relations. However, a meeting between the two presidents has not yet been rescheduled.
Trump will visit San Diego, California, tomorrow to inspect prototypes of his long-sought wall.
Mexico’s relations with Chile — where Piñera is beginning his second term as president after a four-year absence from the job — are on much better terms than those with its northern neighbor.
In the El Mercurio interview, Peña Nieto said “during recent years, Mexico and Chile have strengthened [their relationship] as friends, allies and strategic partners” and would “seek to make the most of that intimacy” during a Piñera administration.
Both countries were among the 11 nations that last week formally entered into a revised Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact.