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Mexican president cancels Trump meeting in Washington

Then-candidate Donald Trump meets with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto in Mexico City in August 2016. | Getty

Enrique Peña Nieto calls off the meeting as tensions rise over Trump’s plan for a border wall.

Updated

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on Thursday called off his planned trip to Washington, after President Donald Trump moved forward with his plan for a long-promised border wall and needled his southern neighbor about forcing Mexico to pay for it.

The cancellation represented an escalation of the already simmering tension between the Trump administration and its Mexican counterpart and comes on the eve of Trump’s first meeting with a foreign leader, British Prime Minister Theresa May. Trump’s promise of a White House driven by an “America First” ethos has worried foreign leaders around the globe, but perhaps nowhere more than in Mexico, a nation with which Trump has pledged to get tough.

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“This morning we told the White House we won’t attend next Tuesday’s meeting with @POTUS,” Peña Nieto wrote on Twitter in a series of posts. “Mexico reiterates its will to work with the US to achieve agreements for both of us.”

Those posts from Peña Nieto followed two from Trump earlier Thursday morning, warning that if Peña Nieto is steadfast in his promise that his nation won’t pay for a wall along America’s southern border, “then it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting” between the two leaders.

Trump kicked off the process of constructing his long-promised border wall on Wednesday, signing an executive order to begin fulfilling one of the very first campaign promises he made. The president pledged throughout his campaign that Mexico would pay for a “great wall” on the U.S. border, but since winning the White House, he has begun suggesting that U.S. taxpayers would front the money for the wall for expediency’s sake but will be reimbursed by the Mexican government.

Trump insisted in an interview that aired Wednesday on ABC News that Mexico will pay, albeit “perhaps a complicated form.” More broadly, Trump has railed against Mexico, suggesting that its leaders have taken advantage of the U.S. via the North American Free Trade Agreement, which the president has vowed to either renegotiate or back out of entirely.

Like her boss, counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway said Thursday morning on NBC’s “Today” that Mexico will pay for the wall “whether they pay for it straight-out, or it’s reimbursed later on after congressional funding.” But she also suggested that “the United States of America spends billions of dollars protecting other countries’ borders. It’s high time we spend some money protecting our own.”

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto: “Mexico offers and demands respect, like the completely sovereign nation that we are."

Beyond upsetting America’s neighbors, a move by the Trump administration to back out of NAFTA entirely could have its own dramatic set of economic consequences. Such a decision could upset international supply chains that stretch across North America that have been developed in the 23 years since NAFTA was enacted. Those supply chains support some 14 million American jobs that depend on trade with Canada and Mexico.

In response to Trump’s executive orders, Peña Nieto released a video Wednesday night, reiterating what has been his unflinching stance, that “Mexico will not pay for a wall.” Gathered with members of their caucus in Philadelphia for their annual retreat, Republican leaders said Thursday that Congress will pass a supplemental bill before the end of September to fund the construction of the wall, putting taxpayers at least temporarily on the hook for Trump’s pet project. The GOP leaders would not say whether they would cut spending or raise taxes to foot the bill for the project, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said will cost between $ 12 and $ 15 billion.

Top Mexican government officials were already in Washington on Wednesday, hammering out plans for Peña Nieto to visit Washington next week, although Trump’s executive orders only added to the pressure on Mexico’s president to cancel that trip. In his Wednesday night video, Peña Nieto did not say whether he would cancel the meeting, only that he would confer with his officials already in Washington about what his next steps would be.

“I regret and reproach the decision of the United States to build a wall that for many years, far from uniting us, has divided us,” the Mexican president said. “Mexico does not believe in walls. I’ve said it many times before — Mexico will not pay for a wall.”

Aboard Air Force One en route to Philadelphia, where Trump was to address the Republican retreat, press secretary Sean Spicer said the president placed a “great importance” on America’s relationship with Mexico and that Trump’s Thursday morning post to Twitter was meant to suggest that “he wants to make sure that’s understood that it would be part of the topics to be discussed.” The press secretary’s comments came before those aboard the plane were aware of Peña Nieto’s decision to cancel.

While Trump and Peña Nieto’s White House meeting has at least for the time being been put on hold, the two men are not strangers to one another. In one of the most surprising moves of a campaign filled with them, Trump made a hasty visit to Mexico City at Peña Nieto’s invitation at the end of August where the two men spoke face to face and then delivered statements to the press. With the Mexican president by his side, Trump told reporters in Mexico City that he and Peña Nieto had not discussed who would pay for Trump’s border wall, although in interviews after Trump had departed, Peña Nieto insisted that he had told Trump that Mexico would not pay.

Upon leaving Mexico City, Trump flew to Phoenix where he delivered a fiery speech doubling down on his hardline immigration promises, a sharp contrast to the tone he had taken just hours earlier.

A U.S. diplomat familiar with Mexico warned earlier on Thursday that it is critical not to view the country solely through the lens of trade or immigration. Mexico is a vital partner on other fronts, including counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics.

GOP leaders won't say how border wall will be paid for

“People need to understand, No. 1, for Mexicans broadly, just how offensive some of this is.”

But despite how strained relations between the U.S. and Mexico have become under his administration, Trump insisted to ABC News that his proposal to reset trade policies between the two nations and clamp down on undocumented immigration will ultimately be to the benefit of both countries. Trump said Wednesday in a speech at the Department of Homeland Security that a tougher border will not just stop the northward flow of undocumented immigrants and drugs, but also the southward movement of guns into the hands of Mexico’s drug cartels.

“You have to understand what I’m doing is good for the United States. It’s also going to be good for Mexico,” Trump told ABC News. “We want to have a very stable, very solid Mexico, even more solid than it is right now. And they need it also. Lots of things are coming across Mexico that they don’t want. I think it’s going to be a good thing for both countries. And I think the relationship will be better than ever before.”

While Trump’s campaign was built on a hardline stance on immigration, there is at least one related issue on which he has apparently softened: that of the so-called “dreamers,” undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children and have grown up as Americans in nearly every way but their citizenship. During the Republican primary, Trump campaigned on a pledge to deport every single undocumented immigrant from the U.S., but as he transitioned to the general election, Trump’s position shifted to one focused on first removing those undocumented immigrants with criminal records beyond their illegal entry into the U.S.

Trump: Mexico border wall construction to begin ‘in months’

President Donald Trump told ABC News’ David Muir in an excerpt of an interview to air later Wednesday that the planning for his border wall is ‘starting immediately.’