WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto spoke for an hour by phone Friday amid rising tensions over the U.S. leader’s plans for a southern border wall, administration officials said.
Trump and Pena Nieto had been expected to meet in Washington next week, but the Mexican president abruptly canceled his visit on Thursday. His decision came after Trump moved forward with plans to construct a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and have Mexico pay for construction.
Following the cancellation, Trump’s spokesman said the White House would seek to pay for the border wall by slapping a 20 percent tax on all imports from Mexico, as well as on other countries the U.S. has a trade deficit with. The White House later cast the proposal as just one option to pay for the wall.
The strong reaction from Mexico signaled a remarkable souring of relations between Washington and one of its most important international partners just days into the new administration. The U.S. and Mexico conduct some $1.6 billion a day in cross-border trade, and cooperate on everything from migration to drug enforcement to major environmental issues.
Two administration officials who confirmed Friday’s phone call insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it publicly.
Trump, who took office without any significant foreign policy experience, has moved swiftly in his first week in office to refocus on what he has deemed an “America First” policy. His position has left key U.S. allies on edge about their standing with Washington.
One of those allies — British Prime Minister Theresa May — met with Trump at the White House Friday.
Later in the day, the president was to travel to the Pentagon, where he was expected to sign a trio of executive actions, including one to halve the flow of refugees into the United Sates and stop all entries from some majority-Muslim nations.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Trump also intended to sign actions related to military readiness and the National Security Council. Details of those directives were not immediately clear.
According to a draft of the refugee order obtained by The Associated Press, Trump would move to indefinitely stop accepting Syrian refugees. The order also calls for a pause in the nation’s broader refugee program for at least 120 days.
Trump campaigned on a pledge to put in place “extreme vetting” procedures particularly for people coming to the U.S. from countries with terrorism ties. According to the draft order, the president plans to suspend issuing visas for people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for at least 30 days.
While at the Pentagon, Trump was expected to meet with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and attend a ceremonial swearing-in for Defense Secretary James Mattis.
Trump has the authority to determine how many refugees are accepted annually, and he can suspend the program at any time. Refugee processing was suspended in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks and restarted months later.
During the past budget year, the U.S. accepted 84,995 refugees, including 12,587 people from Syria. President Barack Obama had set the refugee limit for this budget year at 110,000.
Trump, according to the impending executive order, plans to cut that by more half to 50,000. The draft order says that while the program is suspended, the U.S. may admit people on a case-by-case basis “when in the national interest” and the government will continue to process refugee requests from people claiming religious persecution, “provided that the religion … is a minority religion in the individual’s country.” That suggests it would allow the admission of Christians from Muslim-majority countries.