“There are people here who say, ‘Why hasn’t he called? The Americans are deliberately slighting us,’” Duncan Wood, the director of the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute, said in a telephone interview from Mexico City. “That’s one view, which is widely held. Some people feel aggrieved.”
But, Mr. Wood added, that makes Mr. Mattis’s visit to Mexico City even more significant. Mr. Mattis, Mr. Wood said, “explicitly recognizes the importance of the relationship. He worries that there might be contamination from other issues, and he wants to make sure there is an expression of solidarity with Mexico, recognizing that the fundamental interests of the United States and Mexico have not changed.”
Mr. Mattis has spent time on previous trips abroad trying to stop American allies from taking his boss’s words literally. During his first trip to Europe as defense secretary, in February, Mr. Mattis tried to convince allies that contrary to what Mr. Trump had said, the United States had not soured on NATO. A few days later in Baghdad, he declared that “we’re not in Iraq to seize anybody’s oil,” undercutting an assertion by Mr. Trump that the United States should have “kept” Iraq’s oil after the American-led invasion in 2003 and might still have a chance to do so.
And in the middle of Mr. Trump’s high-profile feud with Mr. Peña Nieto over who would pay for Mr. Trump’s proposed border wall, Mr. Mattis spoke with Mexican defense leaders and highlighted cooperation between the two militaries.
Now, Mr. Mattis, who effectively employs a calm, folksy demeanor, will turn to doing what he can to prop up the American relationship with one of its two closest neighbors. He will be the first defense secretary, Pentagon officials said, to attend Mexican Independence Day celebrations, taking place on Friday ahead of the holiday on Saturday.
Pentagon officials and experts say that the United States and Mexico have been doing more intelligence…