Donald Trump has taken a bold political gamble - flying for a private meeting with Mexico’s president and insisting on his right to build a wall along the border between their two countries. Yet he admitted he did not raise the question of who would pay for it.
Mr Trump, probably looking the most presidential since launching his White House bid 15 months ago, appeared on Wednesday afternoon with Mexico’s leader, where he said the two had shared their opinions, some of which differed.
“We did discuss the wall. We didn’t discuss payment of the wall,” Mr Trump told reporters after the meeting. “That will be at a later date; this was a very preliminary meeting. It was an excellent meeting.”
However, Mr Peña Nieto later tweeted that he "made clear" Mexico would not pay for the wall at the start of their talk.
The 70-year-old Republican candidate appeared with President Enrique Peña Nieto less than 24 hours after he stunned political observers by announcing that he was taking up an invitation to visit Mexico City.
For most of his campaign, the New York tycoon has made comments about Mexicans that many have found offensive and racist. He was slammed for claiming that Mexico was sending its “rapists and criminals” north of the border on the day he announced his intention to challenge for the presidency.
All the while, he has insisted that if he is elected, he would build a wall along the 2,000-mile border the countries share. In what has become a standard piece of choreography at his rallies, when Mr Trump has asked the question of who will pay for it, his supporters routinely chant “Mexico”.
On Wednesday, Mr Trump stuck to this position, saying that it was essential to recognise the “sovereign right” of countries to build walls to protect their border. Still, he said that in in first meeting with the Mexican leader, that he did not push the case of who would pay for it.
Overall, Mr Trump’s tone and language was in marked difference to that which many people have come to expect. In what appeared to be further evidence of his steady realisation that he needs to win over substantial Hispanic support if he is to beat Hillary Clinton, he made an effort to praise Mexican-Americans and spoke in more respectful terms.
Americans of Mexican descent, he said, were “beyond reproach” and “spectacular, hard-working people”.
“As you know, I love United States very much and I want to much sure the people of the United States are protected,” he said, addressing Mr Peña Nieto. “You expressed to me your love for the people of Mexico.”
Mr Trump did express his disagreement with the Mexican leader over free trade agreements - something he claimed benefitted Mexico more than the US.
The Mexican leader had faced considerable domestic criticism for his invitation to someone who is widely disliked in Mexico and whom Mr Peña Nieto had likened to Hitler.
He pressed Mr Trump on his controversial comments and pushed back against his assertions on trade. “Mexican nationals in the United States are honest people, working people,” he said. “Mexicans deserve everybody’s respect.”
Yet his comments were mild, compared to what some had anticipated. Ahead of the meeting, Mexico’s former president, Vicente Fox, had engaged in a Twitter battle with the tycoon. Meanwhile, another former president, Felipe Calderon, said Mr Trump was a hypocrite and a liar.
“We don’t like him. We don’t want him. We reject his visit,” Mr Fox told CNN.
The flying visit came just hours before Mr Trump was scheduled to make a much anticipated speech in Phoenix, Arizona, where he was expected to provide further details of his views on immigration reform.
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