Pompeo to meet Mexican leader

Friday, July 13, 2018

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and a Cabinet-level delegation arrived in Mexico Friday to meet with both the sitting president and president-elect after a sea-change election there that could offer a chance for the neighbors to repair strained relations — or make them worse.

U.S.-Mexico ties have deteriorated under President Donald Trump, who campaigned on building a border wall and who has repeatedly blamed Mexico for economic and social problems in the United States.

Pompeo was to meet first with President Enrique Pena Nieto and then with leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who won a landslide victory in elections and will take office in December. Earlier this month, Trump and Lopez Obrador both made positive statements following a telephone conversation; the wall was not mentioned.

Joining Pompeo on Friday is Trump's son-in-law and White House adviser Jared Kushner, who has played a key role in maintaining relations with Mexico, in part because of his close ties to the foreign secretary of the current government, Luis Videgaray. Also in the delegation are Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

The State Department said the visit is intended to demonstrate the strength and importance of U.S.-Mexico relations and the Trump administration's eagerness to work with the incoming government. The two sides will discuss ways to combat transnational criminal organizations, the opioid epidemic in the U.S., trade tensions and irregular migration.

Sharing a nearly 2,000-mile border, Mexico and the United States have traditionally coordinated closely on security and immigration. Mexico is also the United States' thirdlargest trading partner for goods, with the U.S. buying about 80 percent of Mexico's exports from automobiles to fruit, vegetables and beer.

One proposed plan is to declare Mexico a "safe third country," meaning people traveling through Mexico hoping to claim asylum in the U.S. would have to do so in Mexico instead, according to a Mexican official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media. However, the official said, the proposal has very little support in Mexico as it would burden the country with tens of thousands more asylum seekers a year, something the country lacks the resources to tackle.

When asked about the plan earlier this week, Lopez Obrador did not respond directly, saying only that immigration shouldn't involve "coercive measures."

Mexico's president-elect has said development, the renegotiation of NAFTA and immigration will be the main topics of discussion Friday. Kopez Obrador has said encouraging development in Mexico would help solve immigration problems.

Despite positive statements from both sides, the upcoming transition of power in Mexico also has the potential to destabilize U.S.-Mexico relations if either leader takes aim at the other to appeal to his political base at home. They're unlikely partners as they occupy opposite ends of the political spectrum.