Efforts to smooth the rocky relationship between President Trump and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto appeared to take a step backward when the White House confirmed that tentative plans for a meeting in Washington were put on hold.
The leaders agreed that now is not the right time for Peña Nieto's first visit of Trump's presidency, a White House official who insisted on anonymity told USA TODAY. The two administrations will continue to talk and work together, the officials said.
Meeting plans were abandoned after a "testy call" between the leaders last week ended in an impasse when Trump declined to publicly affirm Mexico’s position that it would not pay for construction of the controversial border wall, The Washington Post reported.
Trump, during his run for the presidency, had promised a brick-and-mortar wall — and that Mexico would pay for it. The pledge consistently drew raucous applause from his boisterous campaign rallies. Peña Nieto, however, repeatedly has said his nation won't pay for the wall.
A Mexican official told the Post that Trump “lost his temper” during the 50-minute call last week, but White House officials told the Post that Trump was simply frustrated by what he considered Peña Nieto’s unreasonable demands.
A White House statement dismissed the controversy.
“We enjoy a great relationship with Mexico, and the two administrations have been working for a year to deepen our cooperation across a range of issues including security, immigration, trade and economics,” National Security Council spokesman Michael Anton said.
The border wall is not the only point of contention between the leaders. Trump has also insisted on changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Mexico has balked at changing the 24-year-old agreement, and Trump has threatened to pull the U.S. out of what he considers an unfair deal.
Mexico elections are set for July. Peña Nieto is not eligible for re-election, but his party's candidate, former finance minister José Antonio Meade, is struggling in the polls. Mexico's Foreign Ministry announced earlier this month that Peña Nieto would meet with Trump "in coming weeks" to discuss the border wall, trade and other issues.
The two leaders first met in Mexico City a few months before Trump's election, but the meeting drew wide criticism in Mexico. Peña Nieto then nixed tentative plans for the two to meet in Washington in January 2017 after Trump warned the Mexican leader — in a Twitter rant — to stay at home if he wasn't willing to pay for the wall.
They did talk at the Group of 20 meetings in Hamburg, Germany in July.