President Donald Trump threatened in a phone call with his Mexican counterpart to send U.S. troops to stop "bad hombres down there" unless the Mexican military does more to control them, according to an excerpt of a transcript of the conversation obtained by The Associated Press.
The excerpt of the call did not make clear who exactly Trump considered "bad hombres," — drug cartels, immigrants, or both — or the tone and context of the remark, made in a Friday morning phone call between the leaders. It also did not contain Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto's response.
Still, the excerpt offers a rare and striking look at how the new president is conducting diplomacy behind closed doors. Trump's remark suggest he is using the same tough and blunt talk with world leaders that he used to rally crowds on the campaign trail.
But Mexican and White House officials vehemently denied the report.
"It's a lie of the size of its bad faith," Pena Nieto's spokesman, Eduardo Sanchez, told AFP.
The White House also denied to AFP that Trump threatened to send troops to Mexico.
If confirmed, the report would contradict the tone of the conversation that was reported in near identical statements issued by the two governments last Friday.
The statements both described the phone call as "constructive and productive," while Trump told a news conference that it was "very friendly."
The phone call came as bilateral relations plunged into the biggest diplomatic crisis between the two neighbors in decades.
Trump angered Mexicans last week by ordering the construction of a massive border wall and vowing to make their country pay for the wall.
Pena Nieto has pledged that his government will never pay for the barrier and he canceled a meeting with Trump scheduled for this week in Washington.
In Friday's statements, both sides said the presidents recognized their public differences over the wall but that they instructed their teams to continue the dialogue between the two governments.
In addition to the row over the wall, Trump wants to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada and Mexico. Mexican officials expect talks to begin in May.
The phone call between the leaders was intended to patch things up between the new president and his ally. The two have had a series of public spats over Trump's determination to have Mexico pay for the planned border wall, something Mexico steadfastly refuses to agree to.
"You have a bunch of bad hombres down there," Trump told Pena Nieto, according to the excerpt seen by the AP. "You aren't doing enough to stop them. I think your military is scared. Our military isn't, so I just might send them down to take care of it."
A person with access to the official transcript of the phone call provided an excerpt to The Associated Press. The person gave it on condition of anonymity because the administration did not make the details of the call public.
A Mexican reporter's similar account of Trump's comments was published on a Mexican website Tuesday. The reports described Trump as humiliating Pena Nieto in a confrontation conversation.
Mexico's foreign relations department denied that account, saying it "is based on absolute falsehoods."
"The assertions that you make about said conversation do not correspond to the reality of it," the statement said. "The tone was constructive and it was agreed by the presidents to continue working and that the teams will continue to meet frequently to construct an agreement that is positive for Mexico and for the United States."
Trump has used the phrase "bad hombres" before. In an October presidential debate, he vowed to get rid the U.S. of "drug lords" and "bad people."
"We have some bad hombres here, and we're going to get them out," he said. The phrase ricocheted on social media with Trump opponents saying he was denigrating immigrants.
Trump's comment was in line with the new administration's bullish stance on foreign policy matters in general, and the president's willingness to break long-standing norms around the globe.
Before his inauguration, Trump spoke to the president of Taiwan, breaking long-standing U.S. policy and irritating China. His temporary ban on refugees and travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries, aimed at reviewing screening procedures to lessen the threat of extremist attacks, has caused consternation around the world.
But nothing has created the level of bickering as the border wall, a centerpiece of his campaign. Mexico has consistently said it would not pay for the wall and opposes it. Before the phone call, Pena Nieto canceled a planned visit to the United States.
The fresh fight with Mexico last week arose over trade as the White House proposed a 20 percent tax on imports from the key U.S. ally to finance the wall after Pena Nieto abruptly scrapped his Jan. 31 trip to Washington.
The U.S. and Mexico conduct some $1.6 billion a day in cross-border trade, and cooperate on everything from migration to anti-drug enforcement to major environmental issues.
Trump tasked his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner — a real estate executive with no foreign policy experience — with managing the ongoing dispute, according to an administration official with knowledge of the call.
At a press conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May last week, Trump described his call with Pena Nieto as "friendly."
In a statement, the White House said the two leaders acknowledged their "clear and very public differences" and agreed to work through the immigration disagreement as part of broader discussions on the relationship between their countries.