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World

Where The U.S. Relationship Stands With Mexico With López Obrador In Charge

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Now to where the U.S. relationship with Mexico stands as a leftist leader prepares to become the country's next president. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador ran an anti-establishment campaign focused on domestic issues, like corruption and violence. He won in a landslide victory on Sunday and had a phone call with President Trump yesterday. To discuss where the relationship between the two countries goes from here, Arturo Sarukhan joins us from Mexico City. He was Mexico's ambassador to the U.S. from 2007 to 2013. Welcome.

ARTURO SARUKHAN: Thank you, Ari. Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: Do you think that this new president will bring a shift in U.S.-Mexico relations?

SARUKHAN: He committed throughout his campaign to constructing maturer, forward-looking, mutually respectful relations with the United States. It won't be at the top of his list of priorities. But this is one issue, Ari, that I think clearly - in the coming months and years - how Trump responds, reacts, engages with Mexico and Lopez Obrador will have a much more significant bearing on the future of the U.S.-Mexico relationship than what Lopez Obrador envisions as his policy towards the United States.

SHAPIRO: If there is a change, where would you expect to see that first - on border issues or NAFTA or collaboration on drugs and narcotics?

SARUKHAN: Yeah, he's been very emphatic throughout the campaign that he supports the successful renegotiation of NAFTA. Where, I think, there is room for potential changes and revisions is precisely on the issue of counternarcotics collaboration, how he confronts organized crime and how he may decide to review what Mexico has been doing to support the United States in stemming the transmigration of Central American migrants on their way to the United States.

SHAPIRO: President Trump has spoken so disparagingly about Mexico and Mexican people. How much of a hunger is there in Mexico for the new president to treat President Trump differently?

SARUKHAN: The issue of anti-Americanism and standing up to Trump really didn't move the needle in terms of how voters went to the poll. But I think they are expecting a president who will stand up for Mexico's interest. And given that President Enrique Pena Nieto has been criticized in the way he has engaged President Trump, there will be pressure from public opinion and from society in general to have a president stand up and defend Mexico particularly because there is such a widespread perception that President Trump has been bullying Mexico.

SHAPIRO: Do you think there is room for President Lopez Obrador to work with President Trump on border crossings? Is there any desire to do so?

SARUKHAN: I think so. Lopez Obrador has been talking about some form of holistic program for development and cooperation with the United States to engage Central America, sort of to deter transmigration and enhance security there. It's a bit of a half-baked idea because there's very few details as of yet as to what he's thinking. But I think there might be some room. And more importantly - for an American president who understands power and weakness, I think Lopez Obrador should and will probably use his very important mandate in the polls as a signal of strength. He will go to Donald Trump and say, I have been elected by a whopping majority of Mexicans. Fifty-three percent of Mexicans voted for me. I have a congressional majority. I come to you in a position of power. I think that's very likely to happen.

SHAPIRO: Ambassador Sarukhan, thanks so much for joining us.

SARUKHAN: My pleasure, Ari. Thank you for having me.

SHAPIRO: Arturo Sarukhan was Mexico's ambassador to the U.S., and he is now with the Brookings Institution. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.