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US-Mexico wall spat escalates

Donald Trump says he supports use of torture, meeting with President Enrique Peña Nieto falls through after war of words

world Updated: Jan 26, 2017 22:41 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times
Trump,Mexico,Peña Nieto
US President Donald Trump vowed to “restore control" of US frontiers as he moved to fulfil his pledge to "build a wall" on the Mexican border.(AFP)

As President Donald Trump prepares to unveil a plan to block some Muslims from entering the US, he turned up the heat on Mexico Thursday to compel it to pay for a wall he has ordered to be built along the entire border with the southern neighbour.

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto cancelled his meeting with Trump hours after the US President threatened to do so himself, saying in a tweet, “If Mexico is unwilling to pay for the badly needed wall, then it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting.”

Trump argued, in a preceding Tweet, Mexico has a $60 billion trade surplus with the US because of “a one-sided deal from the beginning of NAFTA (a three-country trade pact, including Canada)”, implying money could be used to pay for the wall.

Mexico has been clear from the time Trump first proposed the wall that the US is well within its rights to build it, but Mexico would not be paying.

“I have said time and time again, Mexico will not pay for any wall,” Peña Nieto said in a short video statement on Wednesday night. He later tweeted he had informed the White House he would not attend the meeting.

The wall, to be considered along the over 3000-km border, could cost upwards of $12 billion, according to some estimates.

In the backdrop of this escalating war of words, Trump was expected to issue executive orders, which don’t require legislative ratification, blocking people from seven Muslim-majority countries, temporarily. The order Trump is likely to issue keeping out people from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and Yemen will not specifically say it will be religion based, but the effect will be the same as they are all Muslim-majority countries.

By another order Trump plans to stop taking in refugees from war-torn Syria indefinitely and suspended for 120 days the country’s refugee programme. When it resumes, the intake will be down by half from 110,000 in 2016.

Admitting people from these countries, said a draft of the order Trump is expected to issue, would be “detrimental to the interests of the United States”.

The overarching plan, Trump told ABC television news in an interview, was to make the United States harder to access. “It’s going to be very hard to come in,” the President said, adding, “Right now, it’s very easy to come in.”

The order on refugees and Muslims goes back to Trump’s initial call for temporarily banning all Muslims from entering the US, in the aftermath of the San Bernardino terrorist attack in December 2015, which he has since scaled down.

In the draft of the refugees order published by The New York Times, no religion has been singled out but officials are instructed to give priority to minorities from these countries on entering the US — mostly Christians.

Trump’s use of executive orders, which do not require legislative ratification, to order a crackdown on immigration has been widely criticised by civil rights bodies and political opponents, mostly Democrats, along expected lines.

Pramila Jayapal, an Indian American member of the House, said in a statement Trump’s orders impact “people of color and immigrant communities” and she called the wall along Mexican border “racist and ineffective”.

In his ABC interview, Trump also said he supported the use of torture — waterboarding — as an interrogation tool, arguing, “we have to fight fire with fire (to stop terrorism, fight the Islamic State) — but added he will abide by the advice of his team on the issue.

Defense secretary James Mattis and CIA director Mike Pompeo are both opposed to torture and waterboarding — Mattis has said beer and cigarettes work much better. Most Republicans, including senior senator John McCain, too are opposed to it.

Trump has kept up that rhetoric in line with the strongman image he has chosen to portray of himself on this and all other issues of national security.

First Published: Jan 26, 2017 22:39 IST