Mexican president: Trump 'has been more respectful' toward Mexico

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on Monday brushed off critics of his planned visit to Washington, arguing President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump signs bill averting shutdown after brief funding lapse Privacy, civil rights groups demand transparency from Amazon on election data breaches Facebook takes down Trump campaign ads tying refugees to coronavirus MORE's rhetoric toward Mexico "has been more respectful."

"There has been respect from President Donald Trump toward our government. There has been a relationship of mutual respect; I won't say more. Even President Trump's rhetoric toward Mexico has been more respectful than how he expressed himself before, something we are very grateful to him for," López Obrador told reporters at his daily press conference.

López Obrador said he will determine later on Monday the specific dates for a planned visit to Washington to celebrate the entry into force of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).

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Trump has of late scarcely mentioned Mexico — a favorite target of his during the 2016 campaign — in recent speeches.

At a speech in Arizona earlier this month touting border wall construction, Trump only once mentioned the country, in a sarcastic reference to the border city of Tijuana.

"California was saying, 'Please, can we have the wall?' This is California. They didn't want the wall, they didn't want the wall. But they wanted the wall, because right next to San Diego is a wonderful town in Mexico. You know the town, I won't mention the name, but they're heavily infected with COVID," Trump told the audience.

Trump and López Obrador have grown close and both have populist agendas. López Obrador also has been willing to use Mexican forces to enforce Trump's regional immigration policies.

López Obrador — who during his campaign published an anti-Trump book — has been criticized by senior Mexican diplomatic figures over his positive rhetoric toward Trump.

Bernardo Sepúlveda, a former foreign secretary who also served as ambassador to the United States and the United Kingdom, wrote to Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard last week asking him to reconsider the visit, particularly because of the upcoming election in the United States.

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"There doesn't exist, in my judgement, a political foundation that explains a visit of this nature," wrote Sepúlveda.

"Neither is there a motivation to justify the visit, at a time when there is an ongoing electoral process in the United States and where the presence of President López Obrador in an irrelevant ceremony will be interpreted as support for the reelection of President Trump," he added.

But López Obrador has minimized criticism of the proposed visit.

"I have no problem of conscience in going to the United States, if my whole life I've sustained that Mexico is a free, independent and sovereign country, all the time," López Obrador told reporters Monday.

"I am not one who would sell out the homeland to say it clearly, just so no one gets worried or confused. You can have a good relationship with a country like the United States, which is a neighboring country, maintaining our decorum, our dignity, our independence, our sovereignty," he added.