ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
In a perplexing and high-profile trip just hours ahead of his speech on immigration, Donald Trump traveled to Mexico to meet with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
DONALD TRUMP: Prosperity and happiness and both of our countries will increase if we work together.
SIEGEL: Trump has mocked, demeaned and insulted Mexicans as criminals and rapists in his run for the presidency, and a signature promise of his campaign as the Republican Party's nominee is to build a wall along the border and to make Mexico pay for it.
It's unclear what's in this for Mexico's president who previously likened Trump to Hitler but nonetheless extended this invitation. The meeting took place at the president's residence. NPR's Carrie Kahn is there, and she joins us now. Carrie, these two men came out from their meeting and delivered fairly conciliatory statements. They both seemed at pains to be polite and deferential.
CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Very much so, Robert. They stood on a platform at two separate podiums. President Pena Nieto spoke first. Mr. Trump had an interpreter by his side, and he had a very solemn expression on his face throughout Pena Nieto's remarks. Then Mr. Trump spoke, and he read from a text. He occasionally diverted to emphasize a point, but he really kept to the script.
SIEGEL: What were the main points that each side made here?
KAHN: President Pena Nieto repeatedly emphasized the long friendship and strong relationship Mexico has with the U.S., and then he said a couple times how it is his responsibility to protect and defend the rights of Mexicans not only here in Mexico but those living in the U.S.
Trump also repeatedly said it's such an honor to come to Mexico and to meet Pena Nieto. He also said he has lots of Mexican friends and gives so many Mexicans in the U.S. jobs, and he has a great respect for their strong work ethics and family values. He then went on to lay out a five-point plan he said to strengthen U.S.-Mexican relations which include, among other things, ending illegal immigration which he says hurts both countries. And he said he wanted to update and fix NAFTA for the benefit of both nations.
And it was very curious. He talked about losing jobs to China, but instead of pledging to keep the jobs just in America, he softened that tone quite a bit and said he wanted to keep those jobs in all the hemisphere.
SIEGEL: Carrie, did President Pena Nieto explain why he invited Trump to come to Mexico?
KAHN: He sort of did. He said - he keeps saying this, and he tweets this - that he believes in dialogue and that the best way to overcome such bad perceptions of one another and maintain a strong relationship between the U.S. and Mexico is to keep dialoguing. He seems to want to take the high road in what has been this, you know, 14 month long rhetorical brawl between Trump and Mexico, and he seems to be saying enough is enough. He did say he's extended the invitation to both candidates and is looking forward to meeting with Hillary Clinton, too.
SIEGEL: Now, we should note, Americans might not know this, but President Pena Nieto is very unpopular among Mexicans. Politically, what's in it for him?
KAHN: That is a great question (laughter), and everybody is scratching their heads and wondering that. I went out today and spoke with Mexicans that had gathered for a - informal protests there on the street, and they just were shaking their heads, not understanding what he could get out of this. He - as you said, he's very unpopular.
A recent poll put his poll - his popularity at 23 percent, the lowest of any modern Mexican president. And this doesn't seem to be helping him much at all. People were just insulted. I heard things. The overwhelming comment was, if somebody insults you, why do you invite them to their house? That was the cleanest comment I could tell you right now, Robert.
SIEGEL: OK. That's NPR's Carrie Kahn at the Mexican president's residence in Mexico City. Carrie, thank you.
KAHN: You're welcome.