'Diplomacy at its finest': Pompeo defends Mexico deal amid criticism of Trump's tariff threat
President Trump's 'America First' approach has relied on slapping tariffs on countries, such as China and Mexico, which have led to current trade wars. What is a tariff and how do they work? We explain. USA TODAY
WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pushed back Monday against criticism of the Trump administration's immigration deal with Mexico, calling it a "significant win" for the U.S. He disputed reports that Mexico had already agreed to most of the provisions months ago, before last week's frenzied negotiations.
Pompeo also repeated President Donald Trump's claim that there are other undisclosed elements of the agreement, but he declined to provide any specifics.
"There were a number of commitments made. I can’t go into them in detail here," Pompeo told reporters in a hastily announced news conference Monday.
Mexico's foreign secretary Marcelo Ebrard said on Monday that there were no additional elements of the agreement.
Asked specifically about Trump's assertion that Mexico had agreed to buy more U.S. agricultural products, Ebrard responded: “There is no agreement of any kind that hasn’t been made known. Everything I am saying was made known Friday."
In that 468-word deal announced Friday, Mexico agreed to increase security along its southern border with Guatemala, where many Central Americans are crossing into Mexico on their way to the U.S. Pompeo said Mexican officials promised to send 6,000 National Guard troops to stop those crossings, the largest such deployment.
Mexico also agreed to expand a U.S. policy in which migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. will be sent back to Mexico to wait for their claims to be adjudicated, a process that can take months.
"I’ve seen some reporting that says that these countless hours were nothing, that they amounted to a waste of time," Pompeo said in remarks at the State Department.
The New York Times reported Saturday that Mexico had already agreed to most of the provisions outlined in Friday's deal during previous rounds of negotiations. The news organization said, for example, that Mexico promised in December to let the U.S. deport more asylum-seekers back to Mexico until their asylum claims were adjudicated.
Pompeo sharply rejected that report.
"The scale, the effort, the commitment here is very different from what we were able to achieve back in December," he said. Friday's deal "wouldn’t have happened" if Trump hadn't threatened to impose an escalating series of tariffs on all Mexican imports, he said.
Trump said on May 30 that he would impose a 5% tariff on all Mexican goods, starting June 10, unless the Mexican government stopped the flow of migrants to the U.S. border. Trump said he would increase those levies 5 percentage points each month, until they hit 25%.
"It’s what prompted this series of conversations," Pompeo said of Trump's tariff threat.
Critics have said Trump created a crisis with the threatened tariffs and then "solved" it by signing off on a relatively modest agreement.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York called the deal “nothing more than warmed up leftovers.”
“The president claims a bogus agreement with Mexico, which contains policies that Mexico volunteered to do months ago,” Schumer said in remarks on the Senate floor Monday.
But Pompeo said Friday's deal was "diplomacy at its finest."
He said the U.S. had been sending about 200 asylum-seeks a day back to Mexico and under the new deal, the U.S. could send back "thousands" every day.
"We now have the capacity to do this full throttle … in a way that will make a fundamental difference in the calculus" for migrants hoping to come to the U.S., he said.
The Trump administration had initially demanded that Mexico agree to be designated as a safe third-party country, which would have meant accepting asylum applications from thousands of Central American migrants.
Ebrard said Mexico rejected that. He did say the U.S. would re-evaluate the migration situation after 45 days, and they might hold broader talks with other countries to negotiate asylum policies across the region.
Contributing: correspondent David Agren