In Mexico, Mattis Plays Down Political Rhetoric, Seeks to Build Trust

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis stands with Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, Mexico’s secretary of national defense, during an armed forces parade in Mexico City on Sept. 15. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis stands with Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, Mexico’s secretary of national defense, during an armed forces parade in Mexico City on Sept. 15. Staff Sgt. Jette Carr/Air Force

MEXICO CITY — As political daggers fly back and forth across the U.S.-Mexico border, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis used words like "trust," "respect," and "support" to describe the relationship between the neighbors' militaries.

Mattis and other high-level American military officials are south of the border today to meet with their counterparts and take part in Mexico’s Independence Day festivities. 

“In our military-to-military relationship, we maintain a very steady relationship — a growing relationship built on trust and respect,” the secretary told reporters Friday on a flight to the Mexican capital.

The visit comes amid increased political tension between President Donald Trump — who wants to build a wall on the southern border of the U.S. — and Mexican politicians. Mattis played down the political rhetoric, but alluded to shared concerns over the drug trade, human trafficking, and corruption.

“We have shared security concerns,” he said. “There’s partnerships, military-to-military exchanges that are based on trust and respect.”

“The people are keenly aware of their crime problems,” Mattis added. “They’re dealing with them. The drug trafficking going into America, we’re working together on it. Every nation has its challenges it deals with. Mexico is keenly aware of these and I’m there to support them in dealing with them.”

Some of Mattis’ civilian aides were spotted wearing lapel pins depicting intersecting American and Mexican flags. Mattis said that the only full-honors military parades he’s held at the Pentagon were for visits by the Mexican and Canadian defense ministers.

Adm. John Richardson, the U.S. chief of naval operations, and Air Force Gen. Lori Robinson, the head of U.S. Northern Command, are also in Mexico for the festivities.

“I’m going down to build the trust and show the respect on their Independence Day,” Mattis said.

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