Trump sticks to guns on Mexico wall

US President Donald Trump

:: US President Donald Trump said Friday he still wants Mexico to pay for a planned border wall, as he met his Mexican counterpart for the first time as head of state.

Asked at the start of the meeting with Enrique Pena Nieto on the sidelines of the Group of 20 (G-20) Summit in Hamburg, Germany, if he still wanted Mexico to cough up the cash, Trump declared: “Absolutely.”

But Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray, who took part in the meeting, said the wall issue — as agreed — did not come up in the actual talks, and that he and Pena Nieto did not even hear Trump’s comment.

“It wasn’t part of our conversation (with Trump),” he told Mexico’s Radio Formula.

“We didn’t touch on that subject in our conversation, which lasted about half an hour — partly because we have a well-known, significant difference of opinion on that,” he said.

“Both sides had a prior agreement that the issue would not be on the agenda. If he made that comment, he must have made it very quietly, because I didn’t hear it.”

Building a wall between Mexico and the US to stop illegal immigration and the inflow of drugs — and Mexico paying for it — was a signature campaign pledge of Trump’s in last year’s election.

The Trump administration has yet to make serious headway on getting it built or even on who will foot the hefty bill for the 3,200-km barrier.

Under pressure from Democrats, the US Congress has so far refused to commit funding, agreeing only to finance maintenance on existing parts of a border fence.

The real battle will play out starting in October, when 2018 budget negotiations begin in earnest.

Last month Trump suggested covering the wall with solar panels and to use the energy to cover some of the construction costs.

“And this way, Mexico will have to pay much less money. And that’s good. Right?,” Trump told a crowd in Texas on June 22. “Pretty good imagination, right? My idea!“

US-Mexican relations have, meanwhile, nosedived since Trump entered the White House in January.

In January, Pena Nieto canceled a trip to Washington in response to Trump’s insistence on the issue, plunging the countries’ relations into their biggest crisis in decades.

In addition Trump has angered Mexico with attacks on Mexican immigrants as “criminals, drug dealers and rapists” and his insistence on holding tough new trade negotiations with its southern neighbor.

Since the cancellation of the trip, the two leaders have since spoken by phone, and a series of high-level meetings between the two countries have eased the tension.

Trump first met Pena Nieto in August 2016 when he was still a presidential candidate.

In their Hamburg encounter Friday, before the comment about the wall, both presidents delivered statements with Trump hailing the “successful day” at the G-20 so far.

“We’re negotiating NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) and some other things with Mexico and we’ll see how it all turns out, but I think we’ve made very good progress,” Trump said.

Pena Nieto, through a translator, said that the meeting will help the two countries continue a “flowing dialogue,” in particular “for the security of both nations, especially for our borders.”

The Mexican president noted that “migration” is an issue that has “occupied” both administrations.

He added that it was a “co-responsibility to deal with organized crime issues.”

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