TRUMP, Mex­ico’s leader talk af­ter chill over wall.

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - VI­VIAN SALAMA AND DAR­LENE SU­PERVILLE

HAM­BURG, Ger­many — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and Mex­ico’s Pres­i­dent En­rique Pena Ni­eto sat down Fri­day for their first face-to-face meet­ing since Trump took of­fice, with plans for a bor­der wall still loom­ing and Trump as­sert­ing that he’ll “ab­so­lutely” send the bill to Mex­ico.

Jour­nal­ists packed the meet­ing room on the side­lines of the Group of 20 sum­mit of in­dus­tri­al­ized and de­vel­op­ing na­tions for a first glimpse of the two lead­ers to­gether.

Pena Ni­eto was sched­uled to be among Trump’s first in­ter­na­tional White House guests but abruptly can­celed the visit af­ter Trump moved for­ward with plans to con­struct a bor­der wall along the U.S.-Mex­i­can bor­der and have Mex­ico pay for con­struc­tion.

Trump in­sists that the wall is cru­cial to keep­ing drugs and crim­i­nals out of the U.S. — al­though those plans re­main un­clear. Trump re­cently sug­gested that his wall would pay for it­self if it were made of so­lar pan­els.

Asked Fri­day if he still ex­pects Mex­ico to fi­nance the wall, Trump replied: “Ab­so­lutely.”

Pena Ni­eto, for his part, main­tains that Mex­ico will not pay for the wall.

Dur­ing his cam­paign, the pres­i­dent vowed to build an im­pen­e­tra­ble wall along the length of the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der out of con­crete and steel. But since his in­au­gu­ra­tion, he has faced re­sis­tance, with Congress un­will­ing to fi­nance the plan.

Trump, who met with Pena Ni­eto dur­ing the cam­paign last year, in­sists that even if U.S. tax­pay­ers have to cover the costs up­front, Mex­ico will even­tu­ally be forced to re­im­burse the U.S. in some way.

The strong re­ac­tion from Pena Ni­eto sig­naled a sour­ing of re­la­tions be­tween Wash­ing­ton and one of its most im­por­tant in­ter­na­tional part­ners just days into the new ad­min­is­tra­tion. Since then, Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son, Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary John Kelly and Trump’s sonin-law and top ad­viser, Jared Kush­ner, have worked to sal­vage the re­la­tion­ship.

As he kicked off his bid for the White House, Trump had de­rided Mex­ico as a source of rapists and mur­der­ers com­ing into the United States.

Trump looked to down­play the ap­pear­ance of tension in their brief en­counter Fri­day, call­ing Pena Ni­eto a friend.

Speak­ing through a trans­la­tor at the top of the meet­ing, Pena Ni­eto said he hoped to con­tinue a “flow­ing di­a­logue,” par­tic­u­larly “for the se­cu­rity of both na­tions es­pe­cially for our bor­ders.”

Trump also ad­dressed his plans to rene­go­ti­ate the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment, which he has called the “worst trade deal maybe ever signed any­where.”

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion for­mally told Congress in May that it in­tends to rene­go­ti­ate NAFTA with Canada and Mex­ico. The White House had pre­vi­ously spread the word that Trump was ready to pull out of the pact en­tirely, but then Trump re­versed course and said he would seek a bet­ter deal first.

On Fri­day, Trump said they are mak­ing “very good progress” on “ne­go­ti­at­ing NAFTA and some other things with Mex­ico.”

“We’ll see how it all turns out,” he added.

NAFTA took ef­fect in 1994 and trig­gered a big in­crease in trade among the three coun­tries. Amer­i­can farm­ers have mostly ben­e­fited from the re­duc­tion in trade bar­ri­ers, but the pact did en­cour­age Amer­i­can man­u­fac­tur­ers to re­lo­cate some op­er­a­tions to Mex­ico to take ad­van­tage of cheaper la­bor there. Crit­ics blame NAFTA for wip­ing out U.S. fac­tory jobs.

The White House said in a state­ment Fri­day that Trump and Pena Ni­eto dis­cussed ways “to help work­ers in both coun­tries” as part of the NAFTA rene­go­ti­a­tion. The state­ment says lead­ers also dis­cussed re­gional chal­lenges, in­clud­ing drug trafficking, il­le­gal mi­gra­tion, and the cri­sis in Venezuela.

It didn’t say whether they dis­cussed Trump’s plans to build a bor­der wall.

A read­out from the Mex­i­can gov­ern­ment said the two men un­der­scored “the im­por­tance of mod­ern­iz­ing” NAFTA in a way that “re­sults in tan­gi­ble ben­e­fits for the economies and so­ci­eties of North Amer­ica.”

AP/EVAN VUCCI

Meet­ing Fri­day with Mex­i­can Pres­i­dent En­rique Pena Ni­eto at the Group of 20 sum­mit in Ham­burg, Ger­many, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump sought to down­play tension be­tween the two and called Pena Ni­eto a friend.

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