MEXICO CITY—A U.S. delegation led by Secretary of State
arrived in Mexico’s capital Friday to meet with Mexican President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador, part of an effort to mend strained ties as the country’s leadership makes a swing to the left.
Mr. Pompeo was accompanied by Treasury Secretary
Homeland Security Secretary
and White House adviser
They met with outgoing President
Enrique Peña Nieto
and later were to meet with Mr. López Obrador, who was elected by a landslide July 1 and is due to take office Dec. 1.
The unprecedented visit by such a high-level U.S. delegation to discuss migration, trade and security issues soon after the election underscores Mexico’s importance for the U.S., said
president of the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute.
has used Mexico for the last two years as a “punching bag” to whip up his voter base, the U.S. realizes it is an important country and worries Mr. López Obrador may not be as willing as Mr. Peña Nieto to cooperate so closely with the U.S. on bilateral issues, Mr. Selee added.
Mr. López Obrador has been highly critical of Mr. Trump’s immigration policies, including his crackdown on undocumented migrants crossing into the U.S. He has called the U.S.-backed drug war a failure and has proposed an amnesty for some people involved in the growing of marijuana and opium poppy used to make heroin.
He blames much of Mexico’s rising crime, as well as migration from Mexico and Central America, on inequality and poverty, and sees economic development as the way to combat it. He hopes to engage the U.S. in regional development efforts.
“We have to address the causes that lead to migration. People move and leave their place of origin out of need, not for pleasure,” Mr. López Obrador said this week in announcing the meeting. “We want migration to be optional, not because of need.”
The night of his election, Mr. López Obrador said Mexico would seek good relations with the U.S. “always based on mutual respect and the defense of our migrants” who live there.
Since speaking with Mr. Trump on the phone after his election win, Mr. López Obrador has sounded conciliatory.
He expressed gratitude for the “respectful attitude” of Mr. Trump and the U.S. government. The visit is an indication that Mr. Trump is receptive to the proposal of basing the relationship on cooperation for development, he said.
Mexican governments for the past two decades have gone to great lengths to stay on good terms with the U.S., and cooperation has continued under Mr. Peña Nieto despite disagreements over the North American Free Trade Agreement, the border wall, and the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown. The two leaders twice canceled planned meetings because of spats over the wall.
“I imagine the Americans have a very clear agenda, and at the center of the agenda is Central American migration,” said former Mexican foreign minister Jorge Castañeda. “It’s a huge domestic political problem for Trump.”
During his campaign last year, Mr. López Obrador toured Mexican communities in the U.S. visiting cities such as Los Angeles and New York. He published a book of his collected speeches given during the visits titled in Spanish “Oye Trump,” or “Listen up Trump,” which called Mr. Trump’s migration policy “xenophobic” and “racist,” and demanded that migrants be treated justly.
Former U.S. Ambassador Roberta Jacobson, who resigned her Mexico City post earlier this year, said any agreements for concrete actions were unlikely to emerge from what appeared to be a “get-to-know-you” meeting. She added that the meeting may be “a little late for the current government, a little premature for the next one.”
Trade also looms large in the bilateral relationship as the U.S., Mexico and Canada prepare to resume talks to redraw Nafta after a two-month hiatus. The sides were still stuck over topics including content rules for the automotive sector when the U.S. in June imposed steel tariffs on Mexico and Canada, prompting retaliation against U.S. exports.
Mr. López Obrador, who a year ago had called for Nafta talks to be suspended until after the Mexican elections, has acknowledged the work of the current Mexican negotiating team. “We will accompany them as observers, as support for reaching a good agreement, a good treaty. We don’t rule out that possibility,” he said earlier this week.
who serves as Mexico’s chief trade negotiator, spoke this week with U.S. Trade Representative
and said a meeting could be held in Washington in the last week of July.
“You won’t see a huge break between Nafta negotiations under Peña and Nafta negotiations under López Obrador,” said Antonio Ortiz-Mena, senior vice president at strategic advisory firm Albright Stonebridge Group and a member of the original Nafta negotiating team that represented Mexico.