HAMBURG — President Trump told reporters on Friday that he “absolutely” still wants Mexico to pay for a border wall in the United States, ahead of a private meeting with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto at the Group of 20 summit.
The comment came after Trump and Peña Nieto gave remarks and as a group of journalists was being escorted out of the room, leaving Peña Nieto no time to respond. He and other Mexican leaders have consistently made clear that their country will not pay for the massive wall that Trump has promised to build along the U.S. southern border.
As reporters left the room, Darlene Superville of the Associated Press asked Trump: “Mr. Trump, do you still want Mexico to pay for the wall?” Trump responded: “Absolutely.”
This was the first face-to-face meeting that Trump has had with Peña Nieto since his inauguration, although the two met when Trump visited Mexico City during the campaign. Mexico's president was scheduled to visit Washington early in Trump's presidency, but the two leaders canceled the trip amid a war of words about the border wall. The two leaders have spoken on the phone since then, most notably when Peña Nieto called Trump to help persuade him not to terminate the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Ahead of the private “expanded meeting,” Peña Nieto and Trump delivered remarks while seated side-by-side in large white chairs and flanked by their top aides.
Trump lauded the “successful day” he has had so far. He was joined by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, national security adviser H.R. McMaster, senior adviser Jared Kushner and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn.
“We’re negotiating NAFTA and some other things with Mexico, and we’ll see how it all turns out, but I think we've made very good progress,” Trump said.
Peña Nieto, who spoke through an interpreter, said the meeting will help the two countries continue a “flowing dialogue,” especially “for the security of both nations especially for our borders.” He noted that “migration” is an issue that has “occupied” both administrations. And he added that “it is the co-responsibility to deal with organized crime issues.”
After the meeting, the White House released a statement that said the president "emphasized the strong bilateral relationship that the United States enjoys with Mexico and noted the importance of renegotiating NAFTA to help workers in both countries," along with thanking Peña Nieto for Mexico’s partnership on the Central America conference last month that Vice President Pence attended. The statement notes that the two leaders "also discussed regional challenges, including drug trafficking, illegal migration, and the crisis in Venezuela." There was no mention of the wall.
Mexico's Secretary of Foreign Affairs Luis Videgaray Caso said that the meeting went "very well" and was "productive," according to remarks distributed by Mexican government's international press office. The conversation mainly focused on NAFTA, and Videgaray said that negotiations will start on Aug. 16 and he expects that the three countries involved will agree upon "a meaningful, constructive modernization of the agreement" that benefits all of them.
"The issue of the wall was not discussed, was not part of the conversation," Videgaray said.
When asked if the U.S.-Mexico relationship is improving, Videgaray responded: "Certainly the relationships are good. We have some significant and very public differences, but overall the relationship is good and these meetings prove that."
Johnson reported from Washington. Philip Rucker contributed to this report.