Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says the U.S. and Mexico are “two strong foreign countries that from time to time will have differences,” but says his talks with officials in Mexico city were “productive and forward looking.”
Tillerson spoke to reporters alongside his Mexican counterpart Luis Videgaray, who said the two sides have “notorious differences” that can best be solved through dialogue.
The U.S. Secretary of State was joined by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly in the visit to Mexico, which was aimed at soothing concern and anger about the new U.S. administration’s policies toward Mexico.
“We discussed the breadth of challenges and opportunities” in the bilateral relationship, said Tillerson.
President Donald Trump addressed the ties between the two nations earlier at the White House. “We are going to have a good relationship with Mexico and if we don’t, we don’t,” Trump said, a day after his press secretary Sean Spicer referred to bilateral ties as “healthy and robust.”
Low point in relations
The trip came at what is seen as a low point in relations between the two countries, which have enjoyed peace along their 3,100 kilometer-long common border since the Mexican-American War of the late 1840s.
Trump has repeatedly insisted that Mexico, one way or another, must pay for a border wall, which lawmakers in Washington estimate would cost at least $12 billion. And just this week, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security outlined policies that could result in the deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants.
Secretary Kelly emphasized Thursday there will be “no use of military force” for deportations.
Earlier Trump said “We’re getting gang members out. We’re getting drug lords out. We’re getting really bad dudes out of this country.”
WATCH: Trump on Mexico relations
On Wednesday, Mexican Foreign Minister Videgaray said his country will not accept new “unilateral” U.S. immigration proposals and will not hesitate in taking the matter to the United Nations.
“This is a low point in U.S.-Mexico relations, and an abrupt break from the last 30-plus years of cooperation,” said Shannon O’Neil, senior fellow for Latin America studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Call did not go well
The talks came weeks after Trump and the Mexican president spoke by phone on January 27, following the U.S. president’s inauguration.
The call did not go well, according to officials in both countries who spoke on condition they not be named. Media reports say Trump chided his Mexican counterpart for failing to control drug trafficking and suggesting the United States might even deploy troops to defeat narcotics cartels on Mexican territory.
The Mexican president then canceled a planned trip to Washington.
Mexican officials have rejected calls by Trump to pay for a border wall.
“Mexico wants to build bridges, not walls,” Mexican foreign minister Videgaray said last week.
“While the visit will go some way to smoothing bilateral discussions, there is a hard-earned trust that has been broken, and that can’t be repaired with a high level visit,” O’Neil told VOA.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump referred to Mexican immigrants in the United States as rapists and criminals.
A U.S. official said it is “important to view this with a very long lens” and not focus on any particular contentious aspect of the relationship. “Both presidents are keen to set a positive tone, a constructive tone moving forward,” the official added.
New policies being enacted at DHS will lead to hiring thousands more enforcement agents, expanding the number of immigrants targeted for deportation, prioritizing removal hearings for them and obtaining the help of local police to make arrests.
The actions have generated alarm in other countries, none more so than Mexico — the origin of an estimated six million undocumented people in the United States.
Such actions are prompting calls from prominent Mexicans for pushback.
“The Trump administration’s hostile beginning has also shifted Mexico’s domestic politics,” O’Neil said. “Rising nationalism there will make compromises with the United States all the harder as Mexico looks toward its own 2018 presidential race.”
Mexico’s richest businessman, Carlos Slim, who some want to see run for president next year, during a recent rare news conference called for people in his country to buy domestic products and not surrender to Trump’s demands.