MEXICO CITY • Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said he hoped a deal could be struck with the United States yesterday to resolve an immigration dispute and avoid the Trump administration imposing trade tariffs on Mexico next week.
Speaking at his regular morning news conference, Mr Lopez Obrador said he was confident the two sides would reach a deal, and repeated that Mexico would act prudently in talks with senior officials from the US government.
"The US authorities have behaved very well... because they haven't closed themselves off to dialogue and we hope that a deal is reached," he said.
Mr Donald Trump last week said he would apply escalating tariffs of 5 per cent on all Mexican exports to the United States if Mexico did not contain a surge in immigration, mostly from Central America, that has sparked a jump in apprehensions on the US-Mexico border.
The tariffs would begin next Monday and would gradually rise to 25 per cent by October if there was no deal, Mr Trump said.
A Mexican delegation led by Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard is in Washington seeking to broker a deal with the US government, and high level meetings continued yesterday.
When asked whether Mexico would strike back in the event of US tariffs, Mr Lopez Obrador said all options were being considered by his government but he did not want talk about possible retaliation for the time being.
He said: "Our posture is to preserve, above all, the friendship with the people of the United States."
The two sides are in discussions led by US Vice-President Mike Pence in an effort to strike a deal that would satisfy Mr Trump.
"They have to step up and they have to step up to the plate, and perhaps they will. We're going to see if we can solve the problem," Mr Trump told reporters as he departed Ireland yesterday to attend events marking the 75th anniversary of D-Day in France.
"We're having a great talk with Mexico. We'll see what happens, but something pretty dramatic could happen. We've told Mexico the tariffs go on, and I mean it too," Mr Trump said.
Mexican officials have ramped up efforts to halt the flow of Central American migrants crossing the border to the United States, with Mexican soldiers, armed police and immigration officials blocking migrants along its own southern border with Guatemala.
It was unclear whether the hardening of Mexico's response would appease Mr Trump, who is struggling to make good on his key 2016 presidential campaign promise to build a wall along the US-Mexico border as part of a hardline immigration stance.
With efforts to get Mexico and then the US Congress to fund the barrier having failed, Mr Trump threatened to shut down the border completely, before backing off and turning to punitive tariffs.
Mr Lopez Obrador said he will travel to the border city of Tijuana tomorrow to "defend the dignity of Mexico" in the face of US tariff threats. "It is an act of unity to defend the dignity of Mexico and in favour of friendship with the people of the United States," he said.
He was insistent that Mexico needed to apply its laws to stem illegal immigration, while reiterating that the problem needed to be addressed at the point of origin.
Most of the migrants caught trying to enter the United States illegally are from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.