Mexico sees signs of U.S. change on wall payment

A U.S. flag is seen next to a section of the wall separating Mexico and the United States, in Tijuana, Mexico, January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes
A U.S. flag is seen next to a section of the wall separating Mexico and the United States, in Tijuana, Mexico, January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – There are signs the U.S. government is taking a more flexible view of how to pay for its planned border wall with Mexico, and new meetings to craft future bilateral relations could take place soon, a top Mexican official said on Monday.

Those ties were shaken last week when a planned summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto was cancelled after the American said it was better to forgo it if Mexico was unwilling to pay for the wall.

Trump wants a wall on the U.S. southern border to keep out illegal immigrants and says Mexico will pay for it. Mexico has flatly refused, making the issue a point of national pride.

Pena Nieto and Trump spoke by telephone to calm tensions on Friday, and Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray said the two administrations were in close contact and would talk this week.

“Dialogue has not broken off,” he said. “It’s an extraordinarily important relationship for Mexico.”

While no date has been set for a new Pena Nieto-Trump summit, meetings between government officials are possible in the next few days, said Videgaray, who expressed confidence that the White House was modifying its view on payment of the wall.

White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said on Sunday that payment for the wall was still under discussion, mentioning the possibility of a border tax and other fiscal measures.

“It could be on drug cartels,” Priebus added on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “And it could be on people that are coming here illegally and paying fines. Or it could be all of the above.”

While cautioning he had no details of what those plans could involve, Videgaray was heartened by the comments.

“I think it’s a welcome sign, at least I interpret it that way, that we’re seeing the rhetoric is changing,” he said.

The minister said “a very sizeable part” of the business done by drug gangs was in the United States.

Trump has threatened to ditch the North American Free Trade Agreement binding Mexico, the United States and Canada, and Mexico’s government wants to defend its access to the U.S. market by bringing migration and security into discussions.

In a separate video statement on Monday, Pena Nieto promised to better protect migrants north of the border, by channelling over 1 billion pesos (38.49 million pounds) into Mexican consulates in the United States.

The comments came after Videgaray said the country’s fresh steps to support Mexicans living in the United States were not aimed at obstructing law enforcement there.

Mexico announced some measures, such as expanding the availability of mobile consulate services to reach more migrants in November, after Trump’s surprise win.

(Reporting by Dave Graham; Additional Reporting by Lizbeth Diaz; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Michael Perry)

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