U.S., Mex­i­can of­fi­cials dif­fer on deal de­tails

Lodi News-Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Tracy Wilkin­son

WASH­ING­TON — U.S. and Mex­i­can of­fi­cials sought Mon­day to bat down crit­i­cism of the last-minute agree­ment they reached on im­mi­gra­tion and tar­iffs, each play­ing to their do­mes­tic au­di­ences with con­trast­ing and, at times, in­flated claims.

Sec­re­tary of State Michael R. Pom­peo said the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion had won the most sig­nif­i­cant con­ces­sions ever from a Mex­i­can gov­ern­ment to re­duce the flow of mi­grants from Cen­tral Amer­ica.

The agree­ment, which was signed Fri­day night, will “make a fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ence in the cal­cu­lus for those de­cid­ing to tran­sit Mex­ico to try to get into the United States,” Pom­peo told re­porters at the State De­part­ment.

As ev­i­dence, Pom­peo largely cited steps that Mex­ico has al­ready taken, or had planned to take, long be­fore last week’s ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump hinted at se­cret side deals that would show his ad­min­is­tra­tion had won even big­ger gains from Mex­ico, tweet­ing that it would be “re­vealed in the not too dis­tant fu­ture.”

He warned that if the Mex­i­can Congress doesn’t ap­prove the deal, “Tar­iffs will be re­in­stated!”

But Mex­ico’s for­eign min­is­ter, Marcelo Ebrard, who was Pom­peo’s ne­go­ti­at­ing part­ner for three days of in­tense talks at the White House and State De­part­ment, said there were no se­cret deals.

At a news con­fer­ence in Mex­ico City, Ebrard said the two sides had agreed to as­sess in com­ing weeks whether Mex­ico had suc­ceeded in re­duc­ing the num­ber of asy­lum ap­pli­cants and other im­mi­grants en­ter­ing the United States.

Ebrard said the re­view would come in 45 days, while the State De­part­ment gave a 90-day dead­line. The dis­crep­ancy could not be im­me­di­ately rec­on­ciled.

If the surge of refugees has not abated by then, Ebrard said, the two govern­ments would dis­cuss other ways to share the bur­den of asy­lum ap­pli­cants. That could in­clude in­creas­ing the num­ber that Mex­ico takes back from the United States or loop­ing in other coun­tries.

“We think the distri­bu­tion of re­spon­si­bil­ity on asy­lum should be re­gional,” Ebrard said.

He said the United Na­tions High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees should be in­volved, as well as Panama, Brazil and other coun­tries that are be­cause of­ten en­try points to the Amer­i­cas for peo­ple flee­ing Africa and other parts of the world.

Ebrard de­scribed the ne­go­ti­a­tions in Wash­ing­ton as very dif­fi­cult and tense, in con­trast with Pom­peo’s more ef­fu­sive char­ac­ter­i­za­tions, and said U.S.-Mex­i­can re­la­tions have hit their low­est point since Pres­i­dent An­dres Manuel Lopez Obrador took of­fice on Dec. 1.

He re­it­er­ated that Mex­i­can ne­go­tia­tors had suc­cess­fully re­sisted a per­sis­tent Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion de­mand that Mex­ico be de­clared a “safe third coun­try,” which would force refugees to ap­ply for asy­lum in Mex­ico with­out trav­el­ing to the U.S.

“They wanted us to sign some­thing to­tally dif­fer­ent,” Ebrard said.

Pom­peo hailed Mex­ico’s pledge to de­ploy 6,000 Na­tional Guard per­son­nel to its south­ern bor­der with Gu­atemala. At this point, the Na­tional Guard has not been formed, while Mex­i­can fed­eral troops have long been sta­tioned, in larger and smaller forces over the years, near the bor­der.

Pom­peo also said the U.S. re­turn of asy­lum-seek­ers to Mex­ico to await the res­o­lu­tion of their claims would hit “full throt­tle.” The con­tro­ver­sial prac­tice, known as “Re­main in Mex­ico,” started last year and has been chal­lenged in court.

“The deal con­tin­ues the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s com­mit­ment — the strong­est by any ad­min­is­tra­tion in his­tory — to con­front the tide of il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion and many other prob­lems along our south­ern bor­der, in­clud­ing the drug traf­fick­ing is­sues that tran­sit there,” Pom­peo said.

Pom­peo was vague about what met­rics the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion would use to mea­sure suc­cess or fail­ure in the steps Mex­ico takes. Other ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials have said suc­cess will be judged on how many mi­grants show up at the U.S. bor­der. Those fig­ures typ­i­cally go down dur­ing the hot sum­mer months.

“We will eval­u­ate this lit­er­ally daily,” Pom­peo said.

Trump had threat­ened to slap a 5% tar­iff on all im­ports from Mex­ico start­ing Mon­day and es­ca­lat­ing steadily to 25% by Oc­to­ber. Economists, busi­ness lead­ers and law­mak­ers on both sides of the bor­der warned of a costly trade war that would hurt both na­tions’ economies, and Trump in­def­i­nitely sus­pended the tar­iffs on Fri­day as part of the deal.

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