WASHINGTON — Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said Wednesday his country “will not pay for any wall,” defying the claims U.S. President Donald Trump has made. But he did not cancel his trip planned for the United States next week.
“Mexico does not believe in walls. I’ve said time again; Mexico will not pay for any wall,” he said in a video statement posted to Twitter and translated by CNN from Spanish.
Peña Nieto said he would wait for a final report from his top officials who arrived in Washington Wednesday to meet with the Trump administration, and previous meetings with Mexican legislators, before deciding which steps he would take next.
Peña Nieto also said he had ordered government agencies to step up protection for immigrants.
“I’ve asked for the minister of Foreign Relations to re-enforce protection measures to our citizens,” he said. He added that the 50 Mexican Consulates in the US will be used to defend the rights of immigrants in the country. He also issued a call to action to legislators and civil organizations to help immigrants.
Peña Nieto closed his message by saying that Mexico offers and expects respect.
“Mexico offers its friendship to the people of the United States and expresses its wish to arrive at agreements with its government, deals that will be in favor of Mexico and the Mexicans,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Trump signed two executive orders directing the construction of a wall on the US-Mexico border, boosting border patrol forces and increasing the number of immigration enforcement officers who carry out deportations.
Meanwhile, the Mexican officials that arrived Wednesday are expected to lay the groundwork for Peña Nieto’s visit next week, which Mexican diplomats see as an important opportunity to get past the anti-Mexico rhetoric Trump used during the campaign and a chance to put the US-Mexico relationship back on track.
“There is … frustration with our government and ourselves that we have not been able to tell the story of this important relationship,” a Mexican diplomat told CNN ahead of the visit. “There are a lot of stereotypes of Mexicans in the US, but there are also stereotypes of Americans in Mexico. It is in the interest of both governments to explain what this relationship is and what we can do together.”
In a Monday speech, Peña Nieto said his government is prepared to negotiate with the US if Mexico’s national sovereignty is respected. He laid out economic integration and respect for the rights of migrants and the money they send home as his nation’s key negotiating points.
Trump has suggested some of the $25 billion in annual remittances that migrants return home would be retained to pay for the border wall — a project Mexico opposes and which Peña Nieto has said Mexico would never pay for.
“Neither confrontation nor submission. Dialogue is the solution,” Peña Nieto said Monday.
This won’t be the first meeting for the two men. Trump flew to Mexico City during his campaign to meet Peña Nieto and said they discussed a wall Trump has vowed to build on the US southern border, but not his demand that Mexico pay for it — an assertion the Mexican president later disputed.
“At the start of the conversation with Donald Trump, I made it clear that Mexico will not pay for the wall,” Peña Nieto tweeted, after their meeting.
The visit was widely viewed as a public relations disaster for Peña Nieto.