MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Wednesday backtracked further on a Washington summit he had proposed with U.S. President Donald Trump for the July 1 launch of the USMCA trade deal, although he did not totally rule it out.
“Time is against us and it’s not going to be possible now,” Lopez Obrador told reporters, although he added, “I don’t rule it out yet, we must wait.”
Lopez Obrador first suggested several months ago he would meet Trump. Last week, he revived the idea but, with the country now a coronavirus epicenter, he suggested a phonecall as an alternative.
However, his office said on Tuesday the two sides were still considering whether an encounter would be possible. Mexican health authorities have forecast infections will peak this week.
“Everything depends on the situation of the pandemic,” presidential spokesman Jesus Ramirez said.
Another Mexican official with knowledge of the situation said Washington was now keen on making a meeting happen. The official declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the discussions, which a third official said were “ongoing.”
“Trump can be very persistent, he really wants it, I imagine,” said Jorge Castaneda, a former foreign minister of Mexico and author of a book called America Through Foreign Eyes.
The idea of meeting Trump in the heat of his re-election campaign has been greeted with surprise in Mexico, where the U.S. president is almost universally unpopular for his verbal attacks on Mexicans and decision to build a border wall.
A summit in Washington would be Lopez Obrador’s first overseas trip since becoming president.
Memories are also fresh of an ill-fated meeting with Lopez Obrador’s predecessor during Trump’s 2016 run for office that diminished the standing of then-president Enrique Pena Nieto in the eyes of his compatriots.
“There is absolutely no upside whatsoever,” for Mexico, Castaneda said, warning that such a meeting could be seen by U.S. Democrats as support for Trump in the campaign.
(Reporting by Frank Jack Daniel and Dave Graham; Additional reporting by Raul Cortes Fernandez and David Alire Garcia; Editing by Bernadette Baum)