Secretary Of State Mike Pompeo In Mexico

AP Photo/Anthony Vazquez

Pompeo Heads To Mexico To Meet With Current, Incoming Presidents

July 13, 2018 - 4:08 pm

MEXICO CITY (WCBS 880/AP) -- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in Mexico Friday, meeting with current President Enrique Peña Nieto and President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

Pompeo is traveling with President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, along with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

During the visit, Peña Nieto urged the U.S. delegation to quickly reunite migrant families separated at the border.

Peña Nieto called for "a permanent alternative that prioritizes the well-being and rights of minors" and expressed concern over a recent attack on a 92-year-old Mexican man legally residing in California, a statement from the presidency said. The man was reportedly beaten by a woman with a brick and told, "Go back to your country."

Peña Nieto said such incidents "encourage a climate of hate and racism that we must avoid."

When it came to the meeting with López Obrador, who takes office in December, CBS News Military Consultant and Retired Army Maj. Mike Lyons said there were many issues to discuss.

“It’s got to include trade, NAFTA negotiations, something to be said about the opioid crisis that exists and the drug traffic that goes between Mexico and the United States, and then you’ve got the broader security and immigration issue I think they’ll talk about because Kirstjen Nielsen is there as well, so there’s a lot to talk about in Mexico, as it’s going to transition governments,” Lyons said.

CBS News Correspondent Adrienne Bard said the meeting with López Obrador – popularly known as AMLO – functioned as a meet-and greet – though serious issues are on the docket.

“But one thing that was significant is that a letter was given to the U.S. delegation by President-elect López Obrador, and it has four different points of how he sees the best solution to create more opportunities in this region and help deal with the migration problem,” she said. “That letter wasn’t given to the press yet, because it’s actually a letter delivered by address to President Trump, so we’ll wait and see what actually the substance of that was.”

U.S.-Mexico ties have deteriorated significantly under President Trump, who campaigned on building a border wall and has repeatedly blamed Mexico for economic and social problems in the United States.

The issue of the border wall also remains on the table.

“Whether or not Mexico pays for it is probably a sore point with the Mexican government still, and you know, the president probably looks to have that being paid, you know, indirectly through some kind of trade deal. But I think from their perspective, they’re not going to pay for it,” Lyons said, “but you know, it’s important that they need to shore up security on their side of the border as well, as you see some of the challenges that they have there right now.”

But Bard said there was an agreement put in place ahead of time not to discuss the wall.

“They agreed, as I was told, they pre-agreed before any of these meetings, they weren’t going to bring up the wall in any way, shape, or form. So as far as I know, it didn’t come up, and in fact, I think Secretary Pompeo presented this as a meet-and-greet, as I said, and a chance at something for him that he said was a priority to come to Mexico very soon and begin building the relationship with the president-elect here, who is indeed quite different from presidents in recent times in Mexico,” she said.

Dozens of protesters jeered as Pompeo's motorcade approached the modest office of López Obrador, many condemning the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" immigration policy that separated families attempting to claim asylum in the United States.

"Where are our children?" read one sign. Another read, "Stop Trump."

Pompeo offered congratulations to the president-elect.

"We wanted to come down here to let you know that President Trump cares deeply for the success of the relationship between our two countries. Our presence here today signals that to you," Pompeo said. "We know there have been bumps in the road between our two countries, but President Trump is determined to make the relationship between our peoples better and stronger."

Sharing a nearly 2,000-mile border, Mexico and the United States have traditionally coordinated closely on security and immigration. Mexico is also the United States' third-largest trading partner for goods, with the U.S. buying about 80 percent of Mexico's exports, including automobiles, fruit, vegetables and beer.

One proposed plan is to declare Mexico a "safe third country," meaning people traveling through Mexico hoping to claim asylum in the U.S. would have to do so in Mexico instead, according to a Mexican official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media. However, the official said, the proposal has very little support in Mexico, as it would burden the country with tens of thousands more asylum seekers a year, something the country lacks the resources to tackle.

Relations have also been strained by tit-for-tat trade tariffs between Mexico and the U.S. amid tense negotiations over the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA. That has sparked fears of an all-out trade war. Trump has branded the free trade pact, which also includes Canada, as a job killer for Americans.

In his statement, Peña Nieto emphasized his government's willingness to continue renegotiating NAFTA to reach a deal "as quickly as possible."

Despite positive statements from both sides, the upcoming transition of power in Mexico has the potential to further destabilize U.S.-Mexico relations if either leader takes aim at the other to appeal to his political base at home. They're unlikely partners, as they occupy opposite ends of the political spectrum.

But Lyons said from a security standpoint, the new government with López Obrador at the helm could reset the U.S.-Mexico relationship.

“I think what we do have is a chance to reset a relationship with a neighbor to our south, and a lot of it’s got to be focusing towards our hemisphere. I think we’ve ignored it in some ways – I know the president is in Europe right now – but both Canada to the north and Mexico to our south are very important neighbors that we’ve got to really improve the relations with on both sides,” he said.

López Obrador has already announced his government will cancel a pending purchase of U.S. helicopters as an example of cost-cutting measures. The sale was initially promoted by the State Department as a move that would help a strategic partner fight against criminal organizations.

And November midterm elections in the U.S. bring the possibility that Trump could return to the rhetoric of his presidential campaign, which was derogatory toward Mexico.

(© 2018 WCBS 880. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)