US ELECTIONS

Hillary Clinton avoids walking in Donald Trump’s shadow

Unlike property magnate, Democratic presidential candidate sidesteps invitation to Mexico

Clinton arrives in Moline, Illinois.
Clinton arrives in Moline, Illinois.BRIAN SNYDER / REUTERS

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Two weeks ago, Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto extended an invitation to two US politicians: one was a man who had repeatedly insulted and offended his compatriots, the other was a woman who throughout her high-profile career had spoken of her rapport with the United States’ neighbor.

The first politician accepted the invitation, the second turned it down.

Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party’s nominee in November’s presidential elections, said on Monday that unlike her rival, Donald Trump, she wouldn’t be meeting with Peña Nieto. In an interview with ABC television, Clinton politely said that for the moment she preferred to stay focused on the US economy.

Peña Nieto met with Trump last week, surprising just about everybody. Clinton’s refusal to meet with the Mexican president in the wake of Trump’s eventful encounter is the epilogue of one of the more unlikely episodes in recent US-Mexican relations.

Asked by ABC’s David Muir if she would be accepting Peña Nieto’s invitation to visit Mexico before the campaign was over, Clinton replied simply: “No.”

Clinton, a former secretary of state who has already met the Mexican president, has avoided any possible embarrassment

She then added: “I'm going to continue to focus on what we’re doing to create jobs here at home, what we’re doing to make sure Americans have the best possible opportunities in the future.”

On Monday evening, Mexico’s foreign minister, Claudia Ruiz Massieu, tweeted: “We are in constant contact with the Clinton campaign. We understand and respect her decision to postpone the moment of meeting. The governments of Mexico and the United States have a multidimensional, mature and solid relationship.”

Peña Nieto sent a letter to Clinton and Trump on August 26 inviting them to meet him. Trump, whose campaign has seen him insult Mexicans and Mexico time and again, saw an opportunity and on Wednesday, August 31, arrived in Mexico City aboard his private jet.

After the meeting, which lasted more than an hour, Peña Nieto and Trump held a press conference. During the question-and-answer session with reporters, Trump said that he and the Mexican president had not discussed who would pay for the wall he has said he will build along the border between the United States and Mexico if he is elected president. He has repeatedly insisted that Mexico will finance the project.

Once Trump was in the air and on his way back to the United States, Peña Nieto tweeted that he had told the Republican presidential nominee that Mexico would not pay for the proposed wall.

In an interview with ABC television, Clinton said she preferred to stay focused on the US economy

On the same day, at a meeting in the border state of Arizona, Trump reiterated his anti-immigration stance, insisting that Mexico would indeed pay for a wall. “[The president] just doesn’t know it yet,” smirked Trump.

The meeting with Peña Nieto provided Trump with a rare opportunity to play the statesman thanks to the press conference at the official residence of the Mexican president, Los Pinos. His speech a few hours later in Arizona showed that he had not moderated his message, and indeed had toughened his rhetoric.

Speaking to ABC, Hillary Clinton accused Trump of creating a “diplomatic incident”.

“He left the meeting saying one thing and the Mexican president contradicted him almost immediately,” she said, adding: “He doesn’t even know how to communicate effectively with a head of state.”

If, by inviting both candidates, Peña Nieto’s plan was to meet the next president of the United States, then the move has backfired badly. Clinton, who was secretary of state between 2009 and 2013, and who has already met the Mexican president, has avoided any possible embarrassment, preferring to leave diplomatic experiments to Trump.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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