Trump sending top team to Mexico to woo next president

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said new sanctions against Iran will be the "toughest ever" (AFP Photo/KENA BETANCUR) (AFP/File)

Washington (AFP) - President Donald Trump is sending a team of top officials to meet Mexico's president-elect on Friday to show the importance he places on the countries' relationship, the US said, after months of deeply strained ties.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will lead a high-level delegation for meetings with anti-establishment leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who won a landslide victory in Mexico's July 1 elections, opening a new chapter in what has been a troubled relationship since Trump came to office.

"This is an important trip scheduled at a key moment in our bilateral relationship," said a senior US State Department official in a background briefing on Thursday.

He confirmed that Pompeo would be joined by Trump's son-in-law, senior presidential adviser Jared Kushner; Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen; and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

"This delegation is noteworthy and a testament to the importance the administration and the United States place on the bilateral relationship," he added.

The officials will also meet with outgoing Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, who leaves office on December 1, and Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray.

All issues in the neighboring countries' relationship will be on the table, including trade, migration, security and the border, the State Department official said.

US-Mexican relations have been strained since Trump won election in 2016 after a campaign laced with anti-Mexican insults, attacks on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and promises to build a border wall and make Mexico pay for it.

US tariffs on Mexican steel and aluminum, Trump's "zero-tolerance" policy on undocumented immigrants, separation of migrant families and two abruptly canceled visits to Washington by President Pena Nieto have only added to the tension.

Lopez Obrador, widely known as "AMLO," had vowed during the campaign to "put (Trump) in his place."

But the two men appear to have hit it off in their first post-election phone call.

Lopez Obrador said he had offered to help reduce US-bound migration -- an issue close to Trump's heart -- while Trump called it a "great talk."

Some commentators have drawn parallels between the two leaders: both are free-trade skeptics with populist tendencies who mobilized a disgruntled base with anti-establishment campaigns.

Trump has even reportedly taken to calling Lopez Obrador "Juan Trump" in private.

The State Department official said Trump was looking to continue developing a good relationship with the Mexican president-elect.

"President Trump had a very positive call with president-elect Lopez Obrador following the Mexican elections, and this trip will be a good opportunity to continue our conversation and to get to know each other," he said.