Pres. Trump warned in a phone call with his Mexican counterpart that he was ready to send US troops to stop “bad hombres down there” unless the Mexican military does more to control them – comments the White House described as “lighthearted.”

The White House said Thursday that the remarks, in an excerpt obtained by The Associated Press from a transcript of the hourlong conversation, were “part of a discussion about how the United States and Mexico could work collaboratively to combat drug cartels and other criminal elements, and make the border more secure.”

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to discuss the details publicly, described the conversation as “pleasant and constructive.”

“You have a bunch of bad hombres down there,” Trump told Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, according to the excerpt given to the AP. “You aren’t doing enough to stop them. I think your military is scared. Our military isn’t, so I just might send them down to take care of it.”

The Mexican government said “the negative statements” reported in the AP story “did not occur during” the call.”

The president added that the world is “in trouble” and the US is being taken advantage of by other countries. “We’re going to straighten it out,” he said. “That’s what I do. I fix things.”

The phone call between the leaders was intended to patch things up between the new president and his ally. The two have had a series of public spats over Trump’s determination to have Mexico pay for the planned border wall, something Mexico steadfastly refuses to agree to.

The Mexican website Aristegui Noticias on Tuesday published a similar account of the phone call, based on the reporting of journalist Dolia Estevez. The report described Trump as humiliating Pena Nieto in a confrontational conversation.

Americans may recognise Trump’s signature bombast in the comments, but the remarks may carry more weight in Mexico.

Trump has used the phrase “bad hombres” before. In an October presidential debate, he vowed to get rid the US of “drug lords” and “bad people.”

“We have some bad hombres here, and we’re going to get them out,” he said. The phrase ricocheted on social media with Trump opponents saying he was denigrating immigrants.

Before his inauguration, Trump spoke to the president of Taiwan, breaking long-standing US policy and irritating China. His temporary ban on refugees and travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries, aimed at reviewing screening procedures to lessen the threat of extremist attacks, has caused consternation around the world.

But nothing has created the level of bickering as the border wall, a centerpiece of his campaign. Mexico has consistently said it would not pay for the wall and opposes it. Before the phone call, Pena Nieto canceled a planned visit to the United States.

The US and Mexico conduct about $1.6 billion (R21.5 billion) a day in cross-border trade, and cooperate on everything from migration to anti-drug enforcement to major environmental issues.

Trump tasked his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner — a real estate executive with no foreign policy experience — with managing the ongoing dispute, according to an administration official with knowledge of the call.

In a statement, the White House said the two leaders acknowledged their “clear and very public differences” and agreed to work through the immigration disagreement as part of broader discussions on the relationship between their countries.

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