MEXICO CITY/PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) – Mexico’s president on Thursday scrapped a planned summit with Donald Trump in the face of insistent tweets from the U.S. president demanding Mexico pay for a border wall, a deepening rift that threatens Mexican efforts to salvage trade ties.
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, responding to a Twitter message from Trump saying it would be better for him not to come to the meeting if Mexico would not pay for the wall, said in his own tweet that he would not attend and had informed the White House of this.
Trump later presented the scrapped plan as a mutual agreement. Addressing Republican members of Congress at a meeting in Philadelphia, he said he and Pena Nieto had agreed to cancel the meeting, adding it would be fruitless if Mexico did not treat the United States “fairly”.
“I’ve said many times that the American people will not pay for the wall,” Trump told the gathering. “Unless Mexico is going to treat the United States fairly, with respect, such a meeting would be fruitless and I want to go a different route.”
The White House left open the door for a possible rapprochement: White House spokesman Sean Spicer said the United States was keeping open lines of communication with Mexico and looking to reschedule the meeting, which had been planned for Tuesday.
Trump views the wall, a major promise during his election campaign, as part of a package of measures to curb illegal immigration. Mexico has long insisted it will not pay for such a project.
Trump, who took office last Friday, signed an executive order for construction of the wall on Wednesday, just as a Mexican delegation led by Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray arrived at the White House for talks with Trump aides aimed at healing ties.
The timing of that, and Trump’s reiterated call for Mexico to foot the bill, caused outrage in Mexico, with prominent politicians and many on social media seeing at as a deliberate snub to the government’s efforts to engage with Trump, who has for months used Mexico as a political punching bag.
Pena Nieto was under pressure to cancel the summit.
“We have informed the White House that I will not attend the working meeting planned for next Tuesday with @POTUS,” he tweeted on Thursday. “Mexico reiterates its willingness to work with the United States to reach agreements that favor both nations.”
Relations have been frayed since Trump launched his campaign in 2015, characterizing Mexican migrants as murderers and rapists and pledging to build a wall that he said Mexico would pay for.
Trade ties are in the balance after Trump vowed to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement and slap high tariffs on American companies that have moved jobs south of the border.
Mexico’s peso, which has fallen sharply against the U.S. dollar in the face of Trump’s stances on trade and immigration, extended losses to 1 percent after Pena Nieto fired off his tweet, before paring losses.
“The U.S. has a 60 billion dollar trade deficit with Mexico. It has been a one-sided deal from the beginning of NAFTA with massive numbers… of jobs and companies lost. If Mexico is unwilling to pay for the badly needed wall, then it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting,” Trump said in his Twitter message.
Leaders of the Republican-controlled U.S. Congress said on Thursday they planned to move ahead on funding the border wall, which they projected would cost between $12 billion and $15 billion. Trump said in an interview with ABC News on Wednesday evening that Mexico would eventually reimburse the United States for the wall.
“So we intend to address the wall issue ourselves and the president can deal with his relations with other countries,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said at a news conference at the Republican retreat in Philadelphia.
House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, asked if lawmakers were worried about the U.S. relationship with Mexico, said, “I think we’ll be fine.”
Trump ruffled feathers with Mexico from the start of the presidential campaign that led to his election victory on Nov. 8.
Former foreign minister Jorge Castaneda said the Mexican government should have canceled the planned summit earlier in the week, when it became clear that Trump was going to go ahead with measures to build the wall and clamp down on immigration.
“There is an atmosphere of crisis in the United States and it is going to last a long time. We are going to have to get used to living like this,” he said on Mexican radio.