The scene in the Oval Office was remarkable: the foreign minister of Mexico — the very country that Donald Trump had turned into a campaign-trail piñata — huddled with now-President Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
The men were debating what Trump would say in a speech later that day as he ordered construction of a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border. The Mexican diplomat, Luis Videgaray, and Kushner, a White House senior adviser, had concluded that the remarks as drafted would upend the two countries’ fragile relationship, so together they urged Trump to soften his language about Mexico.
The trio arrived at a compromise: Trump, understanding that Mexicans would hang on his every word, agreed to state that a strong Mexico was also in the best interests of the United States. In Mexico City that afternoon, Jan. 25, officials welcomed Trump’s remarks as the most encouraging statement he had given to date about Mexico — and they celebrated Kushner as a moderating influence.
Relations ruptured anew only hours later, however, after a war of words between Trump and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto — punctuated by an angry Twitter missive from Trump the next morning while Videgaray was back at the White House.
Trump promised a foreign policy based on unpredictability, and by that measure, he is delivering. The messy encounter with a traditional ally — which was detailed in interviews with a half-dozen U.S. and Mexican officials — encapsulates his administration’s emerging foreign policy, one that mingles the president’s public bellicosity with Kushner’s behind-the-scenes diplomacy.
Kushner, 36, has no traditional foreign policy experience yet has become the primary point of contact for presidents, ministers and ambassadors from more than two dozen countries, helping lay the groundwork for deals. His influence extends throughout the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region.
Kushner’s back-channel communications with Mexico — the full extent of which has not been previously reported — reveal him to be almost a shadow secretary of state, operating outside the boundaries of the State Department or National Security Council.
Videgaray had come to the White House on Jan. 25 for a full day of private meetings, but it was Kushner who gave him a heads-up that Trump would deliver a speech that afternoon at the Department of Homeland Security where he would sign an executive order on his signature border wall.
And it was Kushner who led Videgaray into the Oval Office for an unscheduled audience with the president, where together they made their case to Trump for a more measured discussion of Mexico.
SOURCE: Philip Rucker, Ashley Parker and Joshua Partlow
The Washington Post