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Mexican president: I told Trump we wouldn't pay for his border wall

Donald Trump and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto spoke Wednesday about Trump's proposed border wall, but confusion surrounded what they said about who would pay for it.

"We did discuss the wall, we didn't discuss payment of the wall, that's for a later date," Trump said after the pair met in Mexico, a country the Republican presidential nominee has criticized often and loudly.

Later, though, Pena Nieto tweeted that he told Trump that Mexico would not pay for the wall. Trump spokesman Jason Miller responded by saying "it was not a negotiation, and that would have been inappropriate."

The sequence of events put a blemish on what otherwise proved a smooth trip for Trump. Standing next to Pena Nieto on Wednesday, a subdued and quiet Trump touted what he called five "shared goals" for the two countries. Those are:

  • Stopping what Trump called the "humanitarian disaster" of illegal immigration.
  • Securing the shared American-Mexican border.
  • Stopping drug cartels that operate in both countries.
  • Improving trade relations.
  • Boosting North American manufacturing.

Trump's hastily arranged Mexico City meeting with Pena Nieto has sapped some attention from the Republican nominee's key immigration speech, due on Wednesday night in Arizona. Trump has repeatedly bashed Mexico since the opening minutes of his campaign last year, painting the country and some immigrants from it as threats to U.S. prosperity.

US presidential candidate Donald Trump (R) and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto prepare to deliver a joint press conference in Mexico City on August 31, 2016.
Yuri Cortz | AFP | Getty Images
US presidential candidate Donald Trump (R) and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto prepare to deliver a joint press conference in Mexico City on August 31, 2016.

Trump has employed harsh rhetoric against the U.S. ally and trade partner, calling for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and pledging to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement. Trump's criticism of Mexican immigrants and their effect on American workers comes as Mexico has become the second-largest buyer of U.S. exports.

Trump called a physical barrier on the border a "sovereign right" for any nation. But even with his sustained call for the wall, Trump used a decidedly less combative tone than he often has when talking about Mexico.

"Having a secure border is a sovereign right and mutually beneficial. We recognize the right of either country to build a physical barrier or wall," Trump said.

Pena Nieto said he and Trump disagree on some topics, but added that cooperation between the countries is essential. He noted that the North American Free Trade Agreement, a frequent Trump punching bag, has benefited both countries but can be improved.

The Mexican president added that he aims to protect Mexicans wherever they go. Pena Nieto said Mexicans in the U.S. contribute in many ways and are honest and hardworking.

U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto arrive for a press conference at the Los Pinos residence in Mexico City, Mexico, August 31, 2016.
Henry Romero | Reuters
U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto arrive for a press conference at the Los Pinos residence in Mexico City, Mexico, August 31, 2016.

Trump, who suggested some Mexican immigrants were rapists and criminals shortly after launching his campaign last year, called Mexican-Americans "spectacular" and "hardworking."

Pena Nieto said Tuesday on Twitter that he believes in dialogue to improve Mexico's interests. But the president has rebuked Trump in the past, saying Mexico will not pay for the border wall as Trump has claimed.

Trump's visit drew broader criticism within Mexico, as former President Vicente Fox told CNN on Wednesday that "we don't like him" and "reject his message."

Trump's Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, on Wednesday criticized him for trying to "make up for a year of insults and insinuations" with the visit.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that former Mexican President Vicente Fox talked to CNN on Wednesday.