Election 2020

Trump, Peña Nieto Have Different Accounts of Border Wall Talks After 'Constructive' Meeting

Mexico's President Enrique Peña Nieto and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump end their joint statement at Los Pinos, the presidential residence, in Mexico City on Aug. 31, 2016. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

Dropping into Mexico City hours before his immigration speech in Arizona, Donald Trump said he and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto agreed about state sovereignty when it comes to border security — but Trump said the two didn’t discuss who will pay for the wall.

A Mexican presidential spokesman, though, later said Peña Nieto told Trump Mexico isn’t paying for a wall.

And Peña Nieto emphasized in a joint press appearance with Trump after their closed-door meeting that weapons are coming south from the U.S. into Mexico and fueling the power of the drug cartels.

Last week, Peña Nieto invited both Trump and Hillary Clinton to come sit down for a face-to-face meeting sometime before the presidential election.

The Trump camp quickly responded, notching the trip into his schedule on the same day as his long-promoted immigration speech in the border state. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani accompanied Trump on the trip.

Earlier this year, Peña Nieto compared Trump to Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, arguing that the populist fervor the presumptive GOP nominee has stoked could lead to dangerous things. “There have been episodes in human history, unfortunately, where these expressions of strident rhetoric have led to very ominous situations,” he told a newspaper in March. “That’s how Mussolini got in, that’s how Hitler got in: they took advantage of a situation, a problem perhaps, which humanity was going through at the time, after an economic crisis.”

Today, Peña Nieto stood at a podium backdropped by the Mexican flag, as Trump stood at a flagless podium with an interpreter by his side.

“I had a very open and constructive discussion with Mr. Donald Trump. The objective of this meeting was to meet each other and to know about the bilateral relations. As far as commercial issues, I shared with Mr. Trump my conviction that the free trade of North America has done a lot of good to both the U.S. as well as Mexico. U.S. exports to Mexico are close to $200 billion a year. And according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, more than six million jobs in the U.S. rely on the exports to Mexico,” he said.

“…I don’t think that commerce must be considered a zero-sum game, so that only one wins and the other one loses. On the contrary, it must be seen as an effort that generates value to both parts and makes our North American region the most competitive and innovative in the world.”

On border issues, Peña Nieto stressed a “very clear vision” in which “the border must transform itself into an asset for our region” that is “efficient and safe.”

He added that an “incomplete vision” of the border “doesn’t account for the illegal flows that come in southbound, including weapons and cash.”

“Billions of dollars and weapons come in from the North, which strengthen the cartels and other criminal organizations that generate violence in Mexico, and obtain gains from the drug sales in the U.S. This flow must be stopped,” Peña Nieto said.

The president acknowledged “the natural right that every country has to protect its own borders,” while stressing “a real collaboration effort between friends and allies is the best route to obtain this.”

Peña Nieto said he told Trump his “priority as the Mexican president and of my government is to protect Mexicans wherever they may be.”

“The U.S. Mexican nationals in the United States are honest people, working people… that respect family, they respect the life in the community, and they are respective of the law,” he added. “As such, Mexicans deserve everybody’s respect.”

Trump called the invitation from the Mexican president “a great, great honor,” and called their meeting “a very substantive, direct and constructive exchange of ideas.”

“I was straightforward in presenting my views about the impacts of current trade and immigration policies on the United States,” he said, reading from prepared text on the podium. “As you know, I love the United States very much and we want to make sure that the people of the United States are very well protected. You equally expressed your feelings and your love for Mexico.”

“We are united by our support for democracy, a great love for our people and the contributions of millions of Mexican Americans to the United States,” Trump said, adding that in the U.S. “first-, second- and third-generation Mexicans are just beyond reproach.”

Trump said the U.S. “must take action to stem this tremendous outflow of jobs from our country” and to end illegal immigration — “not just between our two countries, but including the illegal immigration and migration from Central and South Americans, and from other regions that impact security and finances, in both Mexico and the United States.”

“We recognize and respect the right of either country to build a physical barrier or wall on any of its borders to stop the illegal movement of people, drugs and weapons. Cooperation toward achieving the shared objective, and it will be shared as safety for all citizens is paramount, to both the United States and to Mexico,” he continued.

He said the two countries should work together to “keep manufacturing wealth in our hemisphere” as “a strong prosperous and vibrant Mexico is in the best interest of the United States and will keep and help keep, for a long, long period of time, America together.”

In taking questions from reporters after their prepared statements, Trump said, “We didn’t discuss who pays for the wall, we didn’t discuss… That’ll be for a later date. This was a very preliminary meeting.”

Making Mexico pay for a border wall has been a centerpiece of Trump’s immigration platform, prompting former President Vicente Fox to say in May, “I’m not going to pay for the f**king wall.” Fox apologized on CNN this morning for Peña Nieto’s invitation, calling it “an enormous political risk” for the current Mexican president who suffers from poor approval ratings.

After the press conference, Reuters cited a presidential spokesman as saying Peña Nieto told Trump in the closed-door meeting that he would not pay for the wall.

“What the president said is that Mexico, as he has said on several occasions… will not pay for that wall,” spokesman Eduardo Sanchez told the news agency.

Peña Nieto told reporters that “Mexican people have felt hurt by the comments that have been made” by Trump in the course of the campaign, “but I am sure that his genuine interest is to build a relationship that will give both of our societies better welfare.”

Former President Felipe Calderon told CNN after the press conference that his successor should have demanded an apology from Trump for his comments about Mexicans before agreeing to meet.

Of Trump’s praise for Mexicans in Mexico City today, Calderon said, “He’s lying.”