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US, Mexican officials play nice as Trump doubles down on wall

© AFP | US Homeland Security chief John Kelly shakes hands with Mexico's Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong during a press conference Friday

MEXICO CITY (AFP) - 

Top US and Mexican officials sought common ground Friday on issues such as migration and drug trafficking, even as President Donald Trump combatively repeated his vow to make Mexico pay for his planned border wall.

US Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly struck a conciliatory tone as he wrapped up a three-day trip to Mexico.

"I cannot stress enough how valuable the US-Mexico relationship is to each of our nations," he said.

He said his visit had highlighted the neighbors' common ground on trade, migration and fighting "the scourge of illegal drugs -- with special emphasis on the heroin, cocaine and fentanyl that is flooding the hemisphere and resulting in deaths in both our countries."

Kelly's comments came hours after Trump again touched a raw nerve in Mexico with his latest remark on the border wall.

Asked at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, if he still wanted Mexico to pay for the wall, Trump said: "Absolutely."

He made the comment as he headed into his first official meeting with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, who in January cancelled a visit to Washington over Trump's insistence that Mexico pay for the wall.

That was the lowest point in decades in the countries' diplomatic relations, already badly strained by Trump's attacks on Mexican immigrants as "criminals, drug dealers and rapists" and his insistence on holding tough new trade negotiations.

Mexican Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong also emphasized the countries' common ground after meeting with Kelly.

"We are exploring new forms of cooperation on issues such as fighting arms trafficking, fighting transnational organized crime" and the "dignified" repatriation of deported Mexican immigrants, he said.

During his visit, Kelly also met with Mexican troops fighting the country's powerful drug cartels and took a surveillance flight over opium poppy fields in the restive state of Guerrero.

The visit comes as the US, Mexico and Canada prepare to begin renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) on August 16.

The 1994 trade deal is a cornerstone of the Mexican economy, but Trump blames it for shipping American jobs south of the border.

© 2017 AFP