Mexico says progress needed before president meets Trump

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - White House advisor Jared Kushner left Mexico City on Wednesday with prospects no nearer for a summit between his father-in-law President Donald Trump and Mexico’s President Enrique Pena Nieto, as both sides said progress on joint policy concerns was needed first.

Kushner met with Pena Nieto and other top Mexican officials in a bid to soothe recent tensions after it emerged that a phone call between the two presidents had gone badly due to Trump’s insistence that Mexico pay for a border wall he wants to build to stop illegal immigrants.

During the past week, Trump delivered several barbs against Mexico, whose leaders were dismayed by the U.S. president’s decision to announce protectionist tariffs during complex talks to rework the NAFTA trade pact.

After Kushner left, Mexico’s foreign ministry said officials from both nations agreed that any possible meeting between Trump and Pena Nieto would depend on progress made on areas of mutual concern such as revamping NAFTA, security and migration.

The ministry issued a short statement saying that Kushner, who came with other U.S. officials, had discussed issues such as the fight against drug trafficking, border security, migration, jobs and Central America with his Mexican counterparts.

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It made no mention of the border wall or how progress might be measured.

Pena Nieto was accompanied by Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo and Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray, who earlier held a separate meeting with Kushner at his ministry.

Spirits briefly improved during Kushner’s trip when the White House said it might exempt Mexico and Canada from Trump’s planned tariffs on steel and aluminum, an idea he has floated as a trade-off in return for progress on NAFTA.

Mexican diplomats and opposition leaders had been skeptical about how much Kushner could achieve on his visit, despite the close relationship he has forged with Videgaray. They also doubted his presence would change Trump’s attitude to Mexico.

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“I don’t doubt that Kushner will say positive things, because he’s not Trump,” said Agustin Basave, a senior opposition lawmaker in the Party of the Democratic Revolution.

“But it doesn’t mean a thing if the next day - or even the same night - Trump sends a tweet saying the opposite.”

Many officials in Mexico argue Pena Nieto has little to gain from meeting Trump and are doubtful it will happen soon given the American’s unpopularity south of the border and penchant for blaming Mexicans for the United States’ problems.

A senior U.S. official said one goal of Kushner’s trip was to reduce tensions after the testy phone call between the two leaders, that U.S. officials said led to the postponement of a planned summit.

The call also dampened the mood at the outset of a seventh round of talks to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The talks ended on Monday in Mexico City.

Talks between Kushner and Economy Minister Guajardo is Mexico’s top NAFTA negotiator, broached the subject of working towards a “speedy” renegotiation of the deal, Mexico’s government said.

Additional reporting by Gabriel Stargardter and Michael O’Boyle in Mexico City and Steve Holland in Washington; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore