Washington, Sept 1: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has defended the right of the US to build a wall along its southern border during his visit to Mexico, but stirred controversy after his claim of not having discussed who would pay for it was disputed by the Mexican President.
"We did discuss the wall. We didn't discuss payment of the wall. That'll be for a later date. This was a very preliminary meeting," Trump told reporters at a joint news conference with Nieto after the meeting between the two leaders on Wednesday.
The Mexican president did not respond at that point, but later tweeted, "At the start of the conversation with Donald Trump, I made it clear that Mexico will not pay for the wall."
Building a massive wall along the US border with Mexico and forcing the neighbouring country to pay for it has been a frequent promise during Trump's divisive election campaign. He argued on Wednesday that having a secure border is a sovereign right and is mutually beneficial for both countries.
"We recognise and respect the right of either country to build a physical barrier or wall on any of its borders to stop the illegal movement of people, drugs and weapons. Cooperation toward achieving the shared objective to both the United States and to Mexico," he said.
The 70-year-old real estate baron has previously made controversial statements about Mexico, terming migrants from the country as "rapists" and "murderers". Pena Nieto, who in the past has compared Trump to Adolf Hitler, said Mexicans had been hurt by some of the Republican's comments but said he believed he now genuinely wanted to build relations.
"That there has been a misinterpretation or assertions that regrettably had hurt and has affected Mexicans and it's perception of his candidacy of which I am fully respectful," Pena Nieto said.
"Mexican people have felt hurt by the comments that have been made. But I am sure that his genuine interest is to build a relationship that will give both of our society's better welfare," he said.
The US and Mexico share a 2,000-mile border and a half a trillion dollars in annual trade.