MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Top U.S. officials led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo landed in Mexico on Friday to discuss the border and trade with leftist President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who has said he wants to reduce the flow of migrants north in return for help developing the economy.
Jared Kushner, senior adviser and son-in-law to U.S. President Donald Trump, and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen are in the delegation, which will also meet outgoing Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and the foreign minister.
The arrival of three U.S cabinet officials, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, signaled “the importance the administration places on the bilateral relationship,” a senior State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters ahead of the visit.
The visit, which the official said came at “a key moment” in relations, gives the two neighbors and allies a chance to repair ties that have been increasingly strained since Trump’s 2016 election.
Trump has irked Mexico with demands that it pay for a border wall and comments that it does “nothing” to slow illegal immigration, while he has also sought to revamp the North American Free Trade Agreement to favor the United States.
Despite their ideological differences, Trump was quick to congratulate Lopez Obrador, the first leftist president elected in Mexico in decades, on his landslide July 1 election win.
Lopez Obrador, who like Trump has nationalist and populist leanings, says he wants good relations with the United States, although some political analysts have said the two men could clash if the U.S. president makes comments Mexicans find insulting.
The Mexican president-elect will seek to press the United States to reduce migration by helping to create better living standards in Mexico and Central America, his team said.
“We’re going to go after the causes of immigration. If we solve the violence and poverty and bring jobs and development to Mexico and Central America we can considerably halt the flow,” Olga Sanchez, his pick for interior minister who will attend the meeting, told Reuters.
Mexico opposes a U.S. request to make people seeking asylum in the United States apply in Mexico instead, according to a source and a briefing note seen by Reuters.
Andres Rozental, a former Mexican deputy foreign minister, said he did not know of a precedent for such a senior U.S. delegation paying a visit to an incoming administration.
“What that is showing is a desire from both a U.S. and Mexican perspective to look at the relationship holistically,” Rozental said. “We’ve been pushing for that for a long time.”
Lopez Obrador takes office on Dec. 1.
Reporting by Lesley Wroughton and Diego Ore; Additional reporting by Dave Graham, Writing by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Rosalba O’Brien