Mexico rescinded an offer of aid for American hurricane victims, saying it needed to pay for earthquake recovery. But its reversal also came after President Trump stayed quiet over the disaster.
WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will resume his role as the reassurer for American allies this week when he heads to Mexico, where he will try to mend relations after President Trump failed to quickly offer condolences for the earthquake on Friday that killed at least 96 people and severely damaged thousands of homes.
Mr. Mattis will also try to signal to Mexican officials that ties between the United States and its southern flank remain strong. After four days without word from Mr. Trump about the 8.2-magnitude earthquake in Oaxaca State, Mexico on Monday rescinded its offer of aid to the United States for people affected by Hurricane Harvey.
Mr. Trump had not responded to that offer of help — when it was made, he was tweeting that Mexico was one of the “highest crime nations in the world.” But Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas had said his state would accept the help.
But the offer was withdrawn when Mexico’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Monday that it needed the money to help care for victims of the earthquake, which was followed by Hurricane Katia.
The White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said on Tuesday that Mr. Trump had scheduled a call with President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico and that details of it would be shared with reporters. But as of Wednesday afternoon, the White House had not provided the promised readout of the conversation or confirmed whether it happened.
“There are people here who say, ‘Why hasn’t he called? The Americans are deliberately slighting us,’” Duncan Wood, the director of the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute, said in a telephone interview from Mexico City. “That’s one view, which is widely held. Some people feel aggrieved.”
But, Mr. Wood added, that makes Mr. Mattis’s visit to Mexico City even more significant. Mr. Mattis, Mr. Wood said, “explicitly recognizes the importance of the relationship. He worries that there might be contamination from other issues, and he wants to make sure there is an expression of solidarity with Mexico, recognizing that the fundamental interests of the United States and Mexico have not changed.”
Mr. Mattis has spent time on previous trips abroad trying to stop American allies from taking his boss’s words literally. During his first trip to Europe as defense secretary, in February, Mr. Mattis tried to convince allies that contrary to what Mr. Trump had said, the United States had not soured on NATO. A few days later in Baghdad, he declared that “we’re not in Iraq to seize anybody’s oil,” undercutting an assertion by Mr. Trump that the United States should have “kept” Iraq’s oil after the American-led invasion in 2003 and might still have a chance to do so.
And in the middle of Mr. Trump’s high-profile feud with Mr. Peña Nieto over who would pay for Mr. Trump’s proposed border wall, Mr. Mattis spoke with Mexican defense leaders and highlighted cooperation between the two militaries.
Now, Mr. Mattis, who effectively employs a calm, folksy demeanor, will turn to doing what he can to prop up the American relationship with one of its two closest neighbors. He will be the first defense secretary, Pentagon officials said, to attend Mexican Independence Day celebrations, taking place on Friday ahead of the holiday on Saturday.
Pentagon officials and experts say that the United States and Mexico have been doing more intelligence sharing, and that Mexico, in particular, has been doing more to alert American authorities about people, including potential terrorism suspects, entering Mexico from other countries.
And though Mr. Trump has a propensity toward abrupt tweetstorms that can upset allies, Armand Peschard-Sverdrup, an international business consultant and expert on Mexico, said that the relationship between the United States and Mexico will chug on because it is too important to fall apart.
“There are a myriad of actors in the bilateral relationship, whether they are mayors or governors or cabinet secretaries,” Mr. Peschard-Sverdrup said. “President Trump is just one. He’s an important actor to some point, but the relationship is greater than the personality of the two heads of state.”