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Mexico's likely next envoy to US: Ties at 'critical' point

MEXICO CITY — Mexico's nominee to be its next ambassador to the United States said Thursday that the two countries' relationship is at a "critical" juncture with the new administration of President Donald Trump.

Ahead of high-level talks scheduled for next week in Mexico City, ambassador-in-waiting Geronimo Gutierrez Fernandez said Mexico must pursue a good relationship with Washington but that should not come "at all costs nor under just any conditions," or in a way that is "to the detriment of national interest."

"The relationship between Mexico and the United States and more specifically between their governments is at a critical point," Gutierrez said. "In my judgment there is a possibility of a major derailment. In my judgment there is also, and it is within reach, the opportunity to construct a far more mature relationship."

Gutierrez's remarks came in a private meeting with senators from the opposition Democratic Revolution Party as the Senate prepares to consider his nomination. A recording of the encounter was provided to The Associated Press by a Senate official who was not authorized to release the audio and agreed to so only if granted anonymity.

Relations between Mexico and the United States have been tense since the election and inauguration of Trump, who has vowed to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement and to build a wall along the countries' shared border and force Mexico to pay for it. Mexico has also bristled at Trump's promises of more aggressive deportation policies and past remarks denigrating migrants who enter the United States illegally.

A planned recent visit to Washington by Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto was cancelled after Mexico's government said it wouldn't abide Trump's demand that it pay for the wall.

Gutierrez said Thursday that relations are currently in "an atypical and extraordinary situation," and he sought to highlight how U.S.-Mexico ties have evolved and improved in recent decades.

"Without a doubt it is in the interest of both countries to build a relationship that is of mutual advantage, that is stable, that is lasting," Gutierrez said. "I think naturally there will be many questions about what is the best way to achieve that, particularly under the current conditions."

Gutierrez, the chief of the North American Development Bank, was nominated Jan. 13. If confirmed he will be the fourth ambassador to Washington appointed by Pena Nieto during his 4-year-old administration.

He outlined a five-point plan for Mexico's embassy in Washington: playing a key role in bilateral negotiations; launching an "unprecedented" public diplomacy effort; working closely with the U.S. Congress and state and local governments; consular protection for Mexicans in the United States; and management of the border relationship.

"It would be delusional to consider or present ... a traditional agenda for an ambassador because I am not going — in the event that I am ratified — under normal conditions," Gutierrez said. "On the contrary, there are extraordinary conditions."

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly are expected in Mexico City on Feb. 23 for meetings with Mexican officials. Mexico's Foreign Relations Department said this week that the talks aim to promote a respectful, close relationship between the two governments.

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