(WSJ) Mexican president sent invitations to the Republican candidate and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Donald Trump is planning a quick trip Wednesday to Mexico to meet with President Enrique Peña Nieto, shortly before the Republican presidential nominee is slated to give a speech on immigration in Phoenix.
The trip, which Mr. Trump announced late Tuesday and which was confirmed by the office of Mr. Peña Nieto, follows an invitation the Mexican president sent Friday to both Mr. Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, according to Mr. Peña Nieto’s office. The president’s office said the invitation “was well received by both campaign teams.”
The two men will meet in the Mexican President’s official residence, called Los Pinos, in the early afternoon and issue a statement immediately after. Neither will take any questions, according to a person familiar with the plans.
A trip to Mexico would represent a dramatic development on a subject that has been a controversial centerpiece of Mr. Trump’s campaign. He has vowed repeatedly that he will build a wall along the southern border of the U.S. to keep out illegal immigrants, and has said he will persuade Mexico to pay for it.
In an interview with CNN in July, Mr. Peña Nieto said there was “no way” Mexico would pay for a border wall.
Mr. Trump also has said he is opposed to the North American Free Trade Agreement, a pact that Mexico is party to and continues to support.
Mr. Trump set the stage for a showdown with the leadership of Mexico in his announcement speech last June, when he said the country was sending rapists and drug dealers across the border. Yet he also has pledged that he would find a way to have good relations with Mexico’s leaders, who, he has said, are outsmarting their American counterparts.
Mr. Trump’s speech Wednesday evening on immigration comes after more than a week in which he and his advisers have given conflicting explanations of his deportation policy. During the primary, he said he would expel all illegal immigrants from the country, but in recent days he has suggested focusing on those with criminal records.
On Tuesday morning, Mr. Trump sought to quash any speculation that he was also softening on his promise to build a wall “ From day one I said that I was going to build a great wall on the SOUTHERN BORDER, and much more,” he said on Twitter “Stop illegal immigration. Watch Wednesday!”
Many Mexicans were angered at the news of the meeting, in light of some of the things Mr. Trump has said about Mexico during his campaign over the past year.
“This is appeasement of the worst kind. Peña Nieto is like [Neville] Chamberlain to his Hitler,” said Alejandro Hope, a former Mexican intelligence official and security analyst, referring to the British prime minister who tried to appease Germany in the run up to World War II.
Mr. Hope said the visit—and ensuing potential photo op of both men shaking hands—undercuts Mrs. Clinton’s argument that Mr. Trump doesn’t have the temperament to be president.
“For Trump, this makes perfect sense. He polishes his image,” said Mr. Hope. “What is Pena going to get out of this? Half price on the wall?”
Mr. Peña Nieto and his aides had debated in the past how to respond to the real estate mogul, with many aides suggesting he take an aggressive stand against him, according to a person familiar with the meetings. But the president has said he should not take sides in a U.S. election and instead should appear above the fray, that person said.
But now the Mexican leader has inserted himself in the election through his invitation to both candidates, analysts said.
“I don’t know why Pena is doing this, especially now. It doesn’t help him at home, and brings him and Mexico into the middle of the U.S. election process (at least for a day); a fraught place for a foreign president to be,” Shannon O’Neil, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, wrote in an email.
Mexican officials are expected to try to use the occasion to get across Mexico’s views on immigration and trade, especially Nafta.
Mexican officials complain that the trade relationship has been distorted by both parties, with many Americans seeing Mexico and China as equally harmful for U.S. jobs. They emphasize that after 22 years of Nafta, the U.S. and Mexican economies have become tightly and beneficially joined.
“We want to project a positive image of Mexico based on objective data,” Mexican Foreign Minister Claudia Ruiz Massieu said in a recent interview. “Our bilateral relation has strengthened over the past 25 years…but in recent months stereotypes have emerged, stereotypes based on a biased view of the Mexican community and bilateral relations.”
Today, 32 U.S. states annually export at least $1 billion worth of goods to Mexico. U.S.-made components make up more than a third of every dollar in products Mexico ships back north, Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo said in a recent interview. U.S. components constitute only 3 cents of every dollar worth of products China exports to America, he said.
“Free trade isn’t the problem,” Mr. Guajardo said. “Today, the world competes in regions. Countries partner to set up production chains. Mexico shouldn’t be in the same basket as China.”
Some Mexicans suggested both politicians may need each other at a time when they are struggling. Mr. Trump lags behind in the polls and Mr. Peña Nieto has the lowest approval rating for a Mexican leader in two decades, largely due to a series of corruption scandals, tepid economic growth and rising violence.