March 20, 2019 / 2:22 PM / a year ago

UPDATE 2-Mexico signals improved ties with U.S. on development, trade

(Recasts, adds remarks on tariffs)

MEXICO CITY, March 20 (Reuters) - Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador signaled on Wednesday progress between Mexico and the United States on migration and trade after talks with a senior adviser to U.S. President Donald Trump.

The two neighbors have clashed over Trump’s trade and immigration polices, including his push for a border wall, although Lopez Obrador has mostly avoided public criticism of Trump.

Lopez Obrador, who took office in December, described to reporters on Wednesday a good meeting at a Tuesday night dinner with Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, at the home of a mutual friend in the Mexican capital.

Lopez Obrador said Mexico is seeking a bilateral deal with the Trump Administration that includes a $10 billion development plan for Mexico and Central America aimed at addressing immigration.

He suggested that he believes both governments could sign such an agreement, though he offered no date. The focus, he said, would be on generating employment so that more would-be migrants could find work at home.

“The bilateral agreement (would) guarantee investment in Central America and this country on the order of $10 billion so that there is employment, jobs and that migration is optional,” he said, repeating a proposal he campaigned on as a candidate last year.

The Trump administration has sought to harden U.S. policy toward migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, most of them arriving from impoverished and violence-wracked Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

Lopez Obrador has argued that the creation of a joint program with the United States would better address the root causes of migration in the region.

He has consistently deflected questions about Trump’s bid to secure funding for a wall across the U.S.-Mexico border as a domestic U.S. political matter and instead emphasized the need to maintain good relations with the United States.

His government has accepted dozens of Central American asylum-seekers under a new U.S. plan to make them wait south of the border, often for weeks, while their claims are processed.

Lopez Obrador also suggested during his regular morning news conference that lingering trade tensions between the two neighbors could improve, saying “there is a willingness on the part of the United States to review... steel tariffs” that the Trump Administration imposed on Mexico.

Last year, the U.S. government imposed tariffs on foreign exporters of steel and aluminum, including Mexico, citing national security concerns. The tariffs have been denounced as unfair by Mexican officials. (Reporting by Miguel Angel Guteirrez; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, David Gregorio and Susan Thomas)

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