US misses last chance to host Peña Ni­eto for a state visit

The Herald Sun - - Obituaries - BY FRANCO ORDOÑEZ for­[email protected]­clatchydc.com Franco Ordoñez: 202-383- 6155, @fran­co­or­donez

Stand­ing in front of both U.S. and Mex­i­can flags, Mex­i­can Pres­i­dent En­rique Peña Ni­eto stood shoul­der-to-shoul­der with Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, smil­ing for the cam­eras and shak­ing hands be­fore sit­ting down to sign a new North Amer­i­can trade agree­ment.

But the visit wasn’t in the East Room of the White House, it was in Buenos Aires, Ar­gentina. And Peña Ni­eto didn’t get Trump to him­self. (Cana­dian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was there.) And it wasn’t an of­fi­cial state visit.

In fact, Peña Ni­eto is the first Mex­i­can pres­i­dent in more than half a cen­tury not to be hon­ored with a state visit to the United States – re­flect­ing how far re­la­tions have fallen be­tween the United States and Amer­ica’s most im­por­tant bi­lat­eral part­ner.

Peña Ni­eto’s term ended last week.

Some diplo­mats feel the slight – by both Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and Trump – could cause last­ing dam­age to the U.S.-Mex­ico re­la­tion­ship.

Jorge Gua­jardo, a for­mer Mex­i­can am­bas­sador to China, said the long-time tra­di­tion showed that both sides rec­og­nized the im­por­tance of the part­ner­ship be­tween neigh­bors, and re­gard­less of the political chal­lenges, they could put those dif­fer­ences aside when nec­es­sary.

“It’s the equiv­a­lent of hav­ing a block party,” Gua­jardo said. “You might have some dif­fi­cult times. But you know you’re go­ing to con­tinue to see each other and need to main­tain good con­tact. And when you stop that, there can be a rup­ture in the re­la­tion­ship.”

Mex­ico is the United States’ third-largest trading part­ner with $557.6 bil­lion in goods traded be­tween the two na­tions last year. The re­la­tion­ship is also crit­i­cal on se­cu­rity and mi­gra­tion is­sues.

“No other coun­try has as many con­nec­tions to the United States as Mex­ico and so much at stake,” said Michael Shifter, who as pres­i­dent of the In­terAmer­i­can Di­a­logue has deep ties with many West­ern Hemi­sphere lead­ers. “If the re­la­tion­ship goes off course, it has sig­nif­i­cant con­se­quences.”

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion in­sisted that the United States and Mex­ico main­tained a strong part­ner­ship and pointed to com­ments made by Mex­ico’s For­eign Minister Luis Vide­garay ear­lier this year that the Mex­i­can gov­ern­ment was closer with the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion than pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tions.

“Pres­i­dent Trump and Pres­i­dent Ni­eto have en­joyed a good work­ing re­la­tion­ship proven by the re­cently signed his­toric (United States-Mex­ico-Canada trade agree­ment) and through the ex­ten­sive bi­lat­eral co­op­er­a­tion to counter il­licit nar­cotics traf­fick­ing.” said Judd Deere, a White House spokesman.

Of­fi­cials also pointed to Trump thanking Peña Ni­eto for spend­ing his last day in of­fice with them so they could sign the agree­ment and de­scrib­ing how the three lead­ers had be­come great friends af­ter a wor­thy bat­tle.

“He’s a spe­cial man,” Trump said of Peña Ni­eto. “And he’s re­ally done a good job, and we ap­pre­ci­ate it very much.”

But Peña Ni­eto did not re­ceive one of the grand­est and most glam­orous honors af­forded by the White House. He did not re­ceive a spe­cial ar­rival cer­e­mony with a 21-gun salute on the South Lawn. He did not get to stay at the Blair House. He did not re­ceive a state din­ner at the White House. And, un­like some of the Mex­i­can pres­i­dents be­fore him, he did not get to ad­dress a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress.

The State Depart­ment records in­di­cate Peña Ni­eto re­ceived a state visit on July 22, 2016, but Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials and the Mex­i­can gov­ern­ment say the in­for­ma­tion is wrong. That visit was strictly a bi­lat­eral meeting and a news con­fer­ence.

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