Washington: Donald Trump has defended the right of the US to build a massive wall along its southern border during his first visit to Mexico as the Republican presidential candidate, and triggered a fresh controversy over who will foot the bill for it that could cost billions of dollars.
Trump has constantly berated Mexico during his election campaign, terming migrants from the country as "rapists" and "murderers" and vowed to build a wall on the US' southern border to prevent millions of illegal migrants entering the country, angering Mexicans.
Within hours of Trump's visit, a controversy erupted after his claim of not having discussed who would pay for constructing the wall was disputed by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.
"We did discuss the wall. We didn't discuss payment of the wall. That'll be for a later date. This was a very preliminary meeting," Trump told reporters at a joint news conference with President Nieto after the meeting between the two leaders on Wednesday.
The Mexican president did not respond at that point, but later tweeted, "At the start of the conversation with Donald Trump, I made it clear that Mexico will not pay for the wall." Building a massive wall along the US border with Mexico and forcing the neighbouring country to pay for it has been a frequent promise during Trump's divisive election campaign.
The 70-year-old real estate baron argued that having a secure border is a sovereign right and is mutually beneficial for both countries.
"We recognise and respect the right of either country to build a physical barrier or wall on any of its borders to stop the illegal movement of people, drugs and weapons. Cooperation toward achieving the shared objective to both the United States and to Mexico," he said.
Pena Nieto, who in the past has compared Trump to Adolf Hitler, said Mexicans had been hurt by some of the Republican's comments but said he believed he now genuinely wanted to build relations.
"That there has been a misinterpretation or assertions that regrettably had hurt and has affected Mexicans and it's perception of his candidacy of which I am fully respectful," Pena Nieto said.
"Mexican people have felt hurt by the comments that have been made. But I am sure that his genuine interest is to build a relationship that will give both of our society's better welfare," he said.
Trump has said the wall could cost USD 8 billion to USD 12 billion, be made of precast concrete, and rise 35 to 40 feet, or 50 feet, or higher.
He has said the wall doesn't need to run the nearly 2,000 miles of the border, but half of that because of natural barriers.
The US-Mexico border stretches nearly 2,000 miles, more than half of it along the Colorado River and Rio Grande. As of May 2015, there was about 650 miles of vehicle and pedestrian fencing, according to a 2016 report from the US Government Accountability Office.