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Trump pressured Mexico president on border wall payment - report

The White House has said the US government will pay for the wall initially to get the project off the ground but that Mexico will eventually reimburse it for the work.

FILE: Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto. Picture: AFP

WASHINGTON - US President Donald Trump pressured the Mexican president to stop voicing opposition in public to his plan to have Mexico pay for a border wall, according to transcripts of phone calls published on Thursday that gave an insight into Trump’s attempts to influence foreign leaders in his first days in office.

The Washington Post published texts of calls with Mexico’s Enrique Pena Nieto and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull just days after the Republican took office on 20 January.

Trump, who took office on 20 January, argued with Turnbull over refugees in an acrimonious call eight days later which the new US president told his counterpart was "unpleasant."

In a 27 January call, Trump told Pena Nieto that “if you are going to say that Mexico is not going to pay for the wall, then I do not want to meet with you guys anymore because I cannot live with that,” according to the transcript.

“You cannot say that to the press,” Trump said repeatedly.

The proposed wall, aimed at preventing illegal immigration to the United States, is a bone of contention between Mexico and Washington.

Before the call, Pena Nieto had scrapped a plan to hold talks with Trump in the United States due to tensions over the wall and trade. Pena Nieto has frequently ruled out paying for the wall. The two men have since met, holding talks at a summit of Group of 20 nations in Germany last month.

The White House has said the US government will pay for the wall initially to get the project off the ground but that Mexico will eventually reimburse it for the work.

In the phone call, Trump said both leaders were "in a little bit of a political bind" due to Trump’s campaign pledge to build the wall and have Mexico foot the bill.

"I have to have Mexico pay for the wall - I have to. I have been talking about it for a two-year period," Trump said.

He suggested that the two men avoid the issue of paying for the wall when asked.

"They are going to say, ‘Who is going to pay for the wall, Mr President?’ to both of us, and we should both say, ‘We will work it out,’" Trump said. "It will work out in the formula somehow. As opposed to you saying, ‘We will not pay’ and me saying, ‘We will not pay,’" the US president said.

Speaking to Australia’s Turnbull, Trump became irritated that the United States was expected to honour an agreement made by his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, to accept as many as 1,250 refugees held in Australian processing centres on remote Pacific islands.

He said that would make him look bad given his campaign promises to reduce the number of refugees entering the United States, according to the transcript.

"This is going to kill me. I am the world’s greatest person that does not want to let people into the country," Trump said.

He told Turnbull that their conversation was the most difficult he had held that day, after speaking to Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe among others.

"Look, I spoke to Putin, Merkel, Abe of Japan, to France today, and this was my most unpleasant call," he told the Australian leader.

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