March 7, 2018 / 2:31 AM / 4 months ago

Kushner to visit Mexico after Trump tirades, testy phone call

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Senior adviser to U.S. President Donald Trump, Jared Kushner, will visit Mexico on Wednesday and meet President Enrique Pena Nieto, amid strained relations over trade and Trump’s demands that Mexico pay for a border wall.

The visit by Trump’s son-in-law comes after Trump and Pena Nieto late last month postponed plans for the Mexican leader’s first visit to the White House.

The Mexican foreign ministry announced Kushner’s trip in a statement late on Tuesday. A senior U.S. administration official confirmed the visit, adding that meetings will focus on security, immigration and trade, among other issues.

Trump wants Mexico to pay for the wall he wants built to keep out illegal immigrants. Mexico’s leaders have consistently rejected the demand, and the planned White House summit was postponed following a telephone call between the two leaders that turned sour over Trump’s insistence.

On Monday, as the latest round of the negotiations over a revamped North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) were wrapping up, Trump repeated that the trade deal was bad for the United States and that Mexico was not doing enough to stop drugs flowing into the country.

Kushner is a top foreign policy adviser, but has recently lost access to the most valued U.S. intelligence report, U.S. officials told Reuters last week.

Some analysts in Mexico view the visit as a chance to repair a key U.S. relationship and for Kushner to prove his usefulness to the White House.

“I see it as one of the few things of consequence that he can do that don’t require security clearance,” said Agustin Barrios Gomez, a former federal congressman and head of the working group on the future of U.S.-Mexico relations at the Mexican Council on Foreign Relations.

Mexican officials did not say whether the plans for a Trump-Pena Nieto summit was on the agenda.

CLOSE TIES

Accompanied on his visit by other U.S. diplomats and security officials, the foreign ministry statement said Kushner will also meet Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray.

Among Pena Nieto’s closest advisers, Videgaray helped orchestrate then-candidate Trump’s visit to Mexico in 2016, a trip that was widely panned in Mexico as the Mexican president failed to confront the New York businessman and reality TV star over his anti-Mexican rhetoric on the campaign trail.

Videgaray lost his job as finance minister over the trip’s fallout, but was later appointed foreign minister after Trump’s surprise win in the U.S. presidential election.

Videgaray has maintained close ties with Kushner ever since, including several visits to the White House, most recently an unsuccessful effort to try to broker a Trump-Pena Nieto meeting.

Despite Trump’s sharp criticism of Mexico and its migrants, Videgaray said last month during a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that ties between the two countries were closer than during the previous U.S. administration.

The bilateral relationship was again rocked last weekend as Trump announced plans for tariffs on imports of steel and aluminium that he later said served as an incentive to reach a favourable NAFTA re-negotiation.

Trump has repeatedly blamed the pact for the loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs and has threatened to ditch it unless it can be reworked to better suit U.S. interests.

Trump’s remarks on trade have unsettled financial markets, often causing the Mexico’s peso currency to shed value.

FILE PHOTO: White House senior adviser Jared Kushner delivers remarks on the Trump administration's approach to the Middle East region at the Saban Forum in Washington, U.S., December 3, 2017. REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan/File Photo

Additional reporting by Dave Graham in Mexico City and David Alexander in Washington; Writing by David Alire Garcia; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Simon Cameron-Moore

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