MEXICO CITY: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Homeland Security chief John Kelly will visit Mexico on February 23 to reestablish “constructive” ties after a diplomatic crisis, Mexico’s government said on Wednesday.
Ties have been strained by US President Donald Trump’s vow to crack down on migration from Mexico and revise trade relations.
The Mexican foreign ministry said in a statement that the two US officials would make a working visit aimed at building “a respectful, close and constructive relationship between the two countries.”
During his election campaign, Trump branded immigrants from Mexico rapists and criminals. His plan to build a wall along the countries’ border to keep illegal immigrants out and make Mexico pay for it has enraged many Mexicans.
He has also threatened to end Mexico’s privileged trade relationship with the United States, blaming Mexico for the loss of American jobs.
Mexico is one of the countries most concerned by Trump’s tough approach to foreign relations.It sends 80 percent of its exports to the United States — nearly $300 billion in goods in 2015. His stance has driven US-Mexican relations to their lowest point in decades.
Tens of thousands of Mexicans staged street protests against Trump on Sunday. They also criticized their President Enrique Pena Nieto, saying he was being too soft on Trump.
Pena Nieto has vowed Mexico will not pay for the wall. He cancelled a planned meeting with Trump in Washington last month and called for respectful relations.
Trump has demanded a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Mexico and Canada. He has threatened to block remittances sent home by Mexican workers in the United States.
Pena Nieto vowed to defend Mexico’s interests in the negotiations, which his economy minister said would start in May. He said in January that Mexico would reach out to other countries to seek alternative trade accords.
The foreign ministry said the US visit was the result of the two presidents’ agreement to launch a “dialogue” during a telephone conversation on January 27.
It said Tillerson and Kelly would meet with various Mexican officials and the agenda for the visit would be released in the coming days.
Mexico’s Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray met with Tillerson and Kelly last week in Washington.
The State Department said Tillerson and Videgaray had a “constructive” conversation about law enforcement, migration and security.
Videgaray told reporters afterwards: “The Mexican government will continue to work with a positive and constructive attitude to reach good agreements, as long as it is in an atmosphere of respect for Mexicans.”
Jesus Velasco, an expert at Tarleton State University in Texas, said the February 23 visit was “a good sign” for bilateral relations.
“The United States is going to try to get something out of it and so will Mexico, and the Mexican government has the weapon of security” at the border, he told AFP.
Velasco argued that Mexico could pressure Washington to cooperate with it by threatening to “simply make no effort to hold back” migrants heading to the border.