Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, has cancelled a scheduled visit to Washington next week to meet with Donald Trump, after the US president signed an executive order to move forward on construction of a border wall and repeated his claim that Mexico would be forced to pay for it.

Peña Nieto tweeted on Thursday that he had informed the White House that he would not attend the meeting with Trump that had been scheduled for Tuesday.

“Mexico reiterates its willingness to work with the US to achieve agreements which benefit both nations,” he added.

Speaking to congressional Republicans in Philadelphia, Trump claimed the decision to cancel the meeting with Peña Nieto was mutual.

Trump also repeated his criticism of Nafta, the US free trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, describing it as “a terrible deal [and] a total disaster for us since its inception”.

Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, said that the White House would attempt to set up a new meeting.

“We’ll look for a date to schedule something in the future. We will keep the lines of communication open,” he said.

Peña Nieto’s decision came after a day in which he appeared to dither over the appropriate response to a US administration considered one of the most hostile to Mexico since the Mexican-American war of the 1840s.

The Mexican president has come under sustained criticism at home for failing to come up with a decisive strategy to deal with Trump’s combative policies, and was under growing pressure to pull out of the meeting.

In a short video statement on Wednesday night, he once again declared that “Mexico will not pay for any wall”, but stopped short of cancelling the trip to Washington.

On Thursday morning, Trump appeared to be goading Peña Nieto into pulling out of the visit, saying on Twitter: “The US has a $60bn trade deficit with Mexico. It has been a one-sided deal from the beginning of Nafta with massive numbers of jobs and companies lost."

“If Mexico is unwilling to pay for the badly needed wall, then it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting.”

Many Mexicans welcomed Peña Nieto’s decision, but asked why it had taken so long to make a stand – and why it was not included in Wednesday night’s video.

“It’s good, but too late. He should have immediately announced it immediately,” said Carlos Bravo Regidor, professor at the Centre for Research and Teaching in Economics. “The fact that he has not been able to turn Trump into a piñata for national unity is turning [Peña Nieto] into that piñata.”

The Mexican president has seemed to be constantly wrongfooted by Trump since he launched his election campaign with a barrage of explicitly anti-Mexican rhetoric. Peña Nieto’s perceived failure to stand up to Trump during a visit to Mexico City in August helped drive down his personal popularity ratings to a historic low of 12%.

Peña Nieto appeared frozen in an impossible situation: agreeing to pay for Trump’s wall would stoke domestic outrage; not paying could provoke problems with Trump’s team.

That indecision has only fuelled criticism at home.

Others have been more direct, including ex-president Vicente Fox – who has targeted Trump with profanity-laden tweets for more than a year.

Source: The Guardian