Pompeo says visit shows U.S. wants improved relations
administration officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, went to Mexico on Friday to meet with Presidentelect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
MEXICO CITY — A team of top Trump administration officials traveled to Mexico on Friday to meet its next president and try to repair strained relations in a largely symbolic visit after nearly two years of diplomatic discord.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Mexico’s president-elect, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a left-leaning populist who won the July 1 vote in a landslide.
He also planned to meet outgoing President Enrique Pena Nieto, who has seen his popularity plummet in recent months in part for his failure to challenge President Donald Trump more forcefully.
Pompeo was joined by Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, who has Mexico in his portfolio of responsibilities.
The delegation also included Carl Risch, head of consular affairs at the State Department, a sign of the priority on immigration.
In their meeting with Lopez Obrador, Pompeo said the presence of “four of our most senior people” showed that Trump was serious about improving ties with one of America’s closest allies after bitter clashes over border security, trade and other disputes.
“We wanted to come down here to let you know that President Trump cares deeply for the success of the relationship between our two countries,” Pompeo said. “Our presence here today signals that to you,” he said. “We know there have been bumps in the road between our two countries, but President Trump is determined to make the relationship between our peoples better and stronger.”
The daylong trip, which Pompeo undertook hours after returning to Washington from the NATO summit in Brussels and before he heads to Helsinki for Trump’s meeting Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, comes after months of rancor between Trump and Mexico.
Trump has referred to Mexicans as criminals, demanded Mexico pay for a border wall it doesn’t want and insulted Pena Nieto.
Trump has been kinder to Lopez Obrador, including what both governments labeled a positive and cordial half-hour phone call after his election. Trump has pledged to work with the new Mexican leader after he takes office Dec. 1.
Pena Nieto was not eligible to run because the Mexican constitution prohibits re-election. The presidential candidate for his Institutional Revolutionary Party came in a distant third.
For all the initial rapprochement, Trump and Lopez Obrador almost certainly will clash on both substance and style.
“It’s a good start, but there are still a lot of issues that will be areas (of disagreement),” said Roberta Jacobson, who until May served as U.S. ambassador to Mexico. Trump “needs to stop vilifying Mexicans and blaming them for so many of the United States’ problems.”
Despite Trump’s claims, the Pena Nieto government has taken numerous steps to stem illegal immigration.
Funded in part by the United States, Mexico has reinforced its southern border with Guatemala and deported nearly 150,000 Central Americans in the last year. But those policies are unpopular.
The Trump administration also has sought to persuade Mexico to accept the status of “safe third nation,” which would make it easier for Mexico to accept asylum applicants fleeing violence or persecution at home — and stop them from continuing north to the United States to seek refuge.
Mexico has long resisted the proposal. Although Mexico has accepted significantly more asylum applicants, it is reluctant to shoulder a burden likely to be many times greater.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, has assured Mexican official Luis Videgaray of better U.S.-Mexico relations.