WASHINGTON (AP) - After a week of threats, President Donald Trump declared Friday that now "there is a good chance" the U.S. will strike a deal with Mexico to avert the tariffs he had scheduled for Monday to force the U.S. ally to stem the flow of Central American migrants into the United States.
"If we are able to make the deal with Mexico, & there is a good chance that we will, they will begin purchasing Farm & Agricultural products at very high levels, starting immediately," Trump tweeted from aboard Air Force One as he flew home from Europe. "If we are unable to make the deal, Mexico will begin paying Tariffs at the 5% level on Monday!
The tweet marked a change in tone from earlier Friday, when his spokeswoman Sarah Sanders had told reporters in Ireland before Trump took off: "Our position has not changed. The tariffs are going forward as of Monday."
U.S. and Mexican officials were holding a third day of talks at the U.S. State Department Friday trying to hash out a deal that would satisfy Trump's demand that Mexico dramatically increase its efforts to crack down on migrants. Sanders had said earlier that the two sides had "made a lot of progress" but not enough.
The initial 5% tax on all Mexican goods , which would increase every month up to 25%, could ultimately have enormous economic implications for both countries. Americans bought $378 billion worth of Mexican imports last year, led by cars and auto parts. Many members of Trump's Republican Party and business allies have urged him to reconsider - or at least postpone actually implementing the tariffs as talks continue - citing the potential harm to American consumers and manufactures.
Trump has nonetheless embraced tariffs as a political tool he can use to force countries to comply with his demands - in this case on his signature issue of immigration.
White House officials appeared to deliver mixed messages as they awaited Trump's return to the White House. Economic adviser Kevin Hassett said Trump could delay the tariffs, while Marc Short, Pence's chief of staff, stressed that "there's still a long way to go."
"When the president lands, they're going to present him with, basically, the state of affairs and then the president's going to make a judgment about next steps," Hassett told Fox Business Network. He cited "a lot of positive movement" in recent days.
Either way, Trump appears poised to invoke an emergency declaration that would allow him to put the tariffs into effect, according to people monitoring the talks.
"You should anticipate that happening today," Short told reporters, adding that, "if negotiations continue to go well," Trump "can turn that off at some point over the weekend."
During the first round of talks Wednesday, the gulf between the countries was clear. Mexico offered small and so far undisclosed concessions; the U.S. demanded major action. The U.S. once again pressed Mexico to step up enforcement on its southern border and to enter into a "safe third country agreement" that would make it difficult for those who enter Mexico from other countries to claim asylum in the U.S. Mexico has long resisted that request.
Short said there had been some "receptivity" to the idea Thursday, but said: "I think there's a long way to go in that particular piece."
Trump officials have said Mexico can prevent the tariffs by securing its southern border with Guatemala, cracking down on criminal smuggling organizations and overhauling its asylum system. But the U.S. has not proposed concrete benchmarks to assess whether Mexico is complying, and it is unclear whether even those steps would be enough to satisfy Trump on illegal immigration, an issue he sees as crucial to his 2020 re-election campaign.
In Mexico, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador would not say whether he would accept his country agreeing to be a "safe third country." But unlike on previous occasions, he didn't rule it out.
"That is being looked at," López Obrador said Friday morning during his daily news conference, where he held out hope a deal could be reached before Monday's deadline.
"There is time. ... It is still Friday. I am optimistic that an agreement will be reached," he said.
In addition, Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said Thursday his country had agreed to deploy 6,000 National Guard troops to its border with Guatemala to help control the flow of migrants as part of its concessions.
Beyond Trump and several White House advisers, few in his administration believe the tariffs are a good idea, according to officials familiar with internal deliberations. Those people worry about the negative economic consequences for Americans and believe the tariffs - which would likely spark retaliatory taxes on U.S. exports - would also hurt the administration politically. The officials were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Republicans in Congress have warned the White House that they are ready to stand up to the president to try to block his tariffs, which they worry would spike costs to U.S. consumers, harm the economy and imperil a major pending U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal .
The Department of Homeland Security announced Wednesday that U.S. Border Patrol apprehensions of migrants illegally crossing the border hit the highest level in more than a decade in May: 132,887 apprehensions, including a record 84,542 adults and children traveling together and 11,507 children traveling alone.
Associated Press writers Zeke Miller, Paul Wiseman, Lisa Mascaro, Darlene Superville and Padmananda Rama in Washington and Jonathan Lemire in Shannon, Ireland contributed to this report.