Ambassador to Mexico becomes latest key US diplomat to quit


Washington (AFP)

The US ambassador to Mexico announced Thursday she plans to step down, becoming the latest in a string of senior diplomats to leave key roles in President Donald Trump's administration.

Ambassador Roberta Jacobson's decision comes after Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto reportedly cancelled a visit to Washington amid tensions over trade and US plans for a border wall.

The respected career diplomat's message to staff did not explain the reasons for her departure after only two years in the post, but she signalled concern about the dangers of frayed ties.

"Together we are stronger!" she declared in a Spanish-language tweet, explaining she will formally step down in May and that she does not yet know who will be nominated as her successor.

And in her note to staff, she said her decision was "difficult because of my profound belief in the importance of the US-Mexico relationship and knowledge that it is at a crucial moment."

Trump campaigned for office insisting Mexico would have to pay the multi-billion dollar bill for a wall he plans to build along the US-Mexican border to keep out migrants and smugglers.

He has refused to drop this demand, despite Mexico's insistence it will not pay, and has further strained ties by threatening to tear up the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

The diplomatic situation has been made more complicated this week when Trump's senior advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner lost his "top secret" White House security clearance.

Kushner had been Trump's point man on ties with Mexico, but without a clearance, he will be unable to consult many of the intelligence briefings and diplomatic cables the job involves.

Jacobson, a 31-year State Department veteran, was Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, the US top diplomat for Latin America, under former president Barack Obama.

But Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have had little time for experts left over from previous administrations, and the State Department has recently lost dozens of senior staff.

Earlier this week, Joseph Yun, the special representative for North Korea policy, said he was stepping down in the middle of a major effort to force Pyongyang into nuclear disarmament talks.

Trump's administration has also been slow to fill posts at the top of Tillerson's department, with assistant secretary roles filled by "acting" stand-ins and scores of ambassadorships vacant.