Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto on Wednesday dismissed criticism that his meeting with Donald Trump was a mistake, saying he invited the US presidential candidate in order to confront his views.
“I am convinced that we must confront the problems, threats and risks facing Mexico,” he said during an interview broadcast Wednesday night on the television channel Televisa.
Pena Nieto said that although he doesn’t consider Trump himself a threat, some of the Republican nominee’s proposals are, including his promise to deport millions of Mexican immigrants illegally living in the United States, cancel the NAFTA free-trade agreement and build a wall on the US-Mexican border.
His remarks came after the billionaire real estate tycoon delivered a fiery anti-immigration speech in Arizona Wednesday following his visit to Mexico earlier in the day, when he had struck a more measured tone.
Trump repeated his central campaign promise to make Mexico pay for a wall on the border.
“Yes, we addressed the issue of the wall (at the meeting), I was very clear and emphatic that Mexico would not pay for such a wall,” Pena Neto said.
“I was clear in pointing out that each government has the right to do whatever it wants and pleases on its side of the border,” as long as it is acting within the limits of the law, he added.
Trump had earlier denied the two discussed who would foot the bill for a wall.
Despite Trump’s incendiary speech, Pena Nieto said he believes “there is a change of tone, a recognition of Mexico’s importance,” adding that the meeting was a “rapprochement” that “will not change all the positions” the controversial White House hopeful holds against Mexico.
The announcement of Trump’s visit to Mexico on Tuesday prompted a wave of incredulity and criticism that increased after the meeting, with many accusing Pena Nieto of weakness and humiliation.
Trump launched his campaign last year by declaring that Mexico was sending “rapists” and other criminals across the border.
Afterward, Pena Nieto likened Trump’s isolationist positions to those of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler and fascist Benito Mussolini.
Among Pena Nieto’s critics this week, the country’s former president Vicente Fox tweeted, “Trump not welcome in Mexico, not by me nor the 130 million Mexicans.”