Mexican president tones down Donald Trump rhetoric, says he respects him

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A day after Donald Trump accepted the nomination for president and reaffirmed his promise to secure the border with Mexico, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexico counterpart, Enrique Peña Nieto.

The White House said Friday’s meeting was not pointedly taking place the day after Trump’s big speech at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

Whether the timing was coincidental or not, Obama opened their joint press conference by referring to Peña Nieto as “my good friend and partner.”

“The United States values our enduring partnership with Mexico,” Obama said. “We sell more products to Mexico than we do to China, Russia and India combined.”

Obama also used the meeting to push Congress to act on immigration reform.

"It would be in the U.S. interest – especially our economic interest – to pursue comprehensive immigration reform," he said.

For his part, Peña Nieto also touted the benefits of co-operation between the two neighboring countries.

“The closeness between Mexico and the United States is a solid, unbreakable connection between millions of people,” the Mexican president said. “We are united by 3,000 kilometers of border. For the well-being of Mexico it is essential for the U.S. to prosper.”

Trump has pledged to build a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico and make Mexico pay for it, themes he touched on forcefully during his speech accepting the nomination Thursday night. He has also said Mexican immigrants "have lots of problems" and when they come to the U.S. "they're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists."

Toward the end of his comments, Peña Nieto did mention the U.S. election – and Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

“The Mexican government will be observing with great interest the electoral process,” he said, “I would like to express to both of the candidates my deepest respect ... and to assure them that they will find in Mexico a reliable strategic partner.

Peña Nieto was reminded during the question session that he has sharply criticized Trump's tone, telling a Mexico City-based newspaper earlier this year that Trump speaks the type of language that gave rise to dictators like Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.

But Peña Nieto seemed to backtrack on his critic.

“If you look at my comments, you will see that anything I said about the electoral process here has been taken out of context,” he said.

The meeting between Peña Nieto and Obama took place less than a month after the two met in Canada during a summit of North America's leaders. Obama's meetings with visiting foreign leaders are usually announced weeks in advance, but Pena Nieto's visit was announced just last week.

"I think it's fair to say that almost anything that President Obama did on Friday would be viewed as a sharp contrast to the agenda that's being put forward by the other side," said White House press secretary Josh Earnest ahead of the meeting with Peña Nieto. "But in this case, it's been a while since the president has hosted the president of Mexico here at the White House."

The issues discussed do not seem terribly momentous – an educational agreement to help foster more students going to the other country to study and a transportation agreement to expand the number of airports that have flights between the two nations.

In fact, both men seemed to give a valedictory tone to their post-meeting comments, noting that it was likely to be their final White House meeting together.

“I am proud of what we achieved together,” Obama told Peña Nieto. “Muchas gracias.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.