By JILL COLVIN and MARIA VERZA Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Stung by criticism that his deal to avert threatened Mexican tariffs mostly ramps up existing border efforts, President Donald Trump is insisting there's more to it than meets the eye.
In a pair of tweets Monday morning, Trump claimed that Mexico had agreed to action beyond what was outlined in the Friday announcement, teasing that more would be revealed soon. But Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard, when asked about Trump's tweets, said Monday no secret deal was in the works.
"We have fully signed and documented another very important part of the Immigration and Security deal with Mexico, one that the U.S. has been asking about getting for many years," Trump wrote, claiming that it would be "revealed in the not too distant future and will need a vote by Mexico's Legislative body!.."
"We do not anticipate a problem with the vote," he added, "but, if for any reason the approval is not forthcoming, Tariffs will be reinstated!"
White House officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment about Mexico's stance or to what Trump was referencing. And Trump would not say during a call-in interview with CNBC Monday morning.
Ebrard, speaking at a press conference Monday, denied the existence of any kind of secret agreement. Instead, he said that Mexico was working on a proposal to establish a regional refuge system in conjunction with the United Nations and the governments of Guatemala, Panama and Brazil — three countries that are often starting points for migrants headed.
"They wanted something else totally different ... to be signed," Ebrard said Monday. "But that is what there is here. There is no other thing beyond what I have just explained."
He said that the countries would evaluate the situation in 45 days, "and if we do not achieve the results, we would have to participate in discussions for an agreement that includes the return of asylum seekers under a regional perspective."
He did not clarify what that might look like.
Many had thought Trump was alluding to the idea of Mexico becoming a "safe third country," which would make it harder for asylum seekers who pass through the country from other places to claim refuge in the U.S.
A senior administration official said over the weekend that Mexico had expressed openness to the idea during negotiations, and that it was something the countries would continue to discuss over the coming months. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to share details of closed-door talks.
Mexico, however, has long opposed the safe country idea and Ebrard said on Friday after a deal was reached that Mexico had resisted. The U.S. "proposed in the first meeting that we have a third safe state, which is not the case, which is very important," he told reporters.
A safe third country agreement would need to be approved by Mexican lawmakers and it is unclear whether it would win support given the idea's unpopularity.
Trump's tweets came amid questions about just how much of the deal — announced with great fanfare Friday — was actually new.
It included a commitment from Mexico, for instance, to deploy its new National Guard to the country's southern border with Guatemala. Mexico, however, had already intended to do that before Trump's latest threat and had made that clear to U.S. officials. Mexican officials have described their commitment as an accelerated deployment.
The U.S. also hailed Mexico's agreement to embrace the expansion of a program implemented earlier this year under which some asylum seekers are returned to Mexico as they wait out their cases. But U.S. officials had already been working to expand the program, which has already led to the return of about 10,000 to Mexico without Mexico's public embrace.
"The president has completely overblown what he reports to have achieved. These are agreements that Mexico had already made, in some cases months ago," said Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke, speaking on ABC's "This Week." ''They might have accelerated the timetable, but by and large the president achieved nothing except to jeopardize the most important trading relationship that the United States of America has."
Trump has pushed back on that criticism, defending the deal and his threat to slap a 5% tax on all Mexican goods on Monday to pressure the country to do more to stem the flow of Central American migrants across the U.S. southern border. Without the threat, he has insisted, Mexico never would have acted.
"We have been trying to get some of these Border Actions for a long time, as have other administrations, but were not able to get them, or get them in full, until our signed agreement with Mexico," he tweeted Sunday, adding during a call-in interview with CNBC Monday morning that officials had "talked about it for months and months and months," but couldn't reach agreement until the threat.
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan, speaking on "Fox News Sunday" also insisted "all of it is new," including the agreement to dispatch around 6,000 National Guard troops — a move Mexico has described as an "acceleration."
"This is the first time we've heard anything like this kind of number of law enforcement being deployed in Mexico to address migration, not just at the southern border but also on the transportation routes to the northern border and in coordinated patrols in key areas along our southwest border," he said, adding that "people can disagree with the tactics" but that "Mexico came to the table with real proposals" that will be effective, if implemented.
Trump has also dangled the prospect of renewing his tariff threat if the U.S. ally doesn't cooperate to his liking.
Versa reported from Mexico City.