WASHINGTON - On Thursday morning, the Washington Post published full transcripts of two of U.S. President Donald Trump's first phone calls with foreign leaders after he entered office in January.
The transcripts show his conversations with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, both of which turned into heated arguments over immigration issues.
During his conversation with Nieto, Trump at some point mentioned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying that he is relying on Netanyahu's advice when he says the United States should build a wall along its border with Mexico.
This reference to Netanyahu came in the middle of a very tense part of Trump's call with the Mexican president, during which both leaders openly disagreed on how to publicly handle the question of "who will pay" for the border wall Trump promised his voters during the 2016 election.
"You know, you look at Israel. Israel has a wall and everyone said do not build a wall, walls do not work – 99.9 percent of people trying to get across that wall cannot get across anymore," Trump tells Peña Nieto. He then adds – "Bibi Netanyahu told me the wall works."
The conversation between Trump and Peña-Nieto took place on January 27th, 2017. A day later, Netanyahu put out a controversial tweet on his official account, expressing support for Trump's plan to put up a wall on the Mexican border: "President Trump is right. I built a wall along Israel's southern border. It stopped all illegal immigration. Great success. Great idea."
President Trump is right. I built a wall along Israel's southern border. It stopped all illegal immigration. Great success. Great idea 🇮🇱🇺🇸— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) January 28, 2017
The tweet caused somewhat of a diplomatic storm between the two countries, with Mexico fuming over Israel perceived support of Trump's bid to build the wall. The crisis was resolved only after President Reuven Rivlin called Mexico's Peña Nieto.
"I am certain that no one intended to make a comparison between the situation in Israel and that of Mexico. It was all a misunderstanding," Rivlin said.
Peña Nieto thanked Rivlin for his efforts to resolve the crisis. "I want to stress that Mexico has always had close relations with Israel and we want that to continue," he said. Unfortunately, he added, the ties had been damaged by Netanyahu's tweet. "We are fully aware of the explanation that has been given for the tweet, but the interpretation of what was said was unavoidable."
During his conversation with Peña Nieto, Trump asked his Mexican counterpart multiple times to avoid saying publicly that Mexico will not pay for the wall. "You cannot say it to the press," he told him at some point, "The press is going to go with that and I cannot live with that. You cannot say that to the press because I cannot negotiate under those circumstances."
This seems like an acknowledgment on Trump's behalf that Mexico will not actually pay for the wall, despite his election promise that it will. Peña Nieto replied that he has no choice but to state the position publicly.
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