WASHINGTON • Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto has scrapped plans to meet Mr Donald Trump next week, after the United States President tweeted that Mexico should cancel the meeting if it was not prepared to pay for his proposed border wall.
"This morning we informed the White House that I will not attend the work meeting planned for next Tuesday with the POTUS," Mr Pena Nieto said on Twitter, referring to Mr Trump. "Mexico reiterates its willingness to work with the United States to reach accords that favour both nations."
Mr Trump's hostile remark came after Mr Pena Nieto slammed him for ordering work to begin on building a wall along their border.
"The US has a US$60 billion trade deficit with Mexico. It has been a one-sided deal from the beginning of Nafta (North American Free Trade Agreement), with massive numbers of jobs and companies lost. If Mexico is unwilling to pay for the badly needed wall, then it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting," Mr Trump had said on Twitter.
Sticking to his hardline stance on immigration and national security, Mr Trump instructed officials on Wednesday to begin to "plan, design and construct a physical wall along the southern border" and see how it can be funded.
"A nation without borders is not a nation," he said, echoing former president Ronald Reagan, as he visited the Department of Homeland Security to sign two executive orders. "Beginning today, the United States of America gets back control of its borders."
The timing caused outrage in Mexico, with prominent politicians and many on social media seeing it as a deliberate snub, coming on the first day of talks between top Mexican officials led by Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray and their counterparts in Washington, and just days before the meeting between the two countries' presidents.
In a nationally televised address, Mr Pena Nieto demanded "respect" for his country as he reiterated that Mexico will not pay for the wall.
"I regret and condemn the decision of the United States to continue construction of a wall that, for years, has divided us instead of uniting us," he said.
"I have said it time and again: Mexico will not pay for any wall."
Besides building the border wall to fulfil an election promise, Mr Trump has also pledged to renegotiate Nafta with Canada and Mexico. He has called it the worst trade deal the US has signed.
Stemming immigration was a central plank of Mr Trump's election campaign. His signature prescription was to build a wall along the nearly 3,200km US-Mexico border.
Some of the border is already fenced, but Mr Trump says a wall is needed to stop illegal immigrants from Latin America.
A Morning Consult/Politico poll released on Wednesday said 47 per cent of voters support building a wall, with 45 per cent against.
Experts have voiced doubts about whether a wall would actually slow illegal immigration, or if it is worth the billions it is expected to cost. "I suspect that a lot of Trump supporters would be just as happy with a big statue of a middle finger pointed south," said congressman Luis Gutierrez of Illinois. "Both are about equally effective as national security strategies."
Despite the high-octane rhetoric, Mr Trump's action was piecemeal, looking to identify existing funds that could be diverted towards the project.
The Republican-controlled Congress, which has long preached fiscal prudence, would need to approve billions of dollars more for the wall.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS