By Michael O'Boyle
IXMIQUILPAN, MEXICO (Reuters) - Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto spoke with U.S. President Donald Trump by phone on Saturday ahead of talks among their officials in Washington next week as the Mexico leader faces populist pressure from a frontrunner in the 2018 election.
In his call with Trump, Pena Nieto highlighted the importance of the bilateral relationship, and both leaders agreed to meet in the near future, his office said in a statement.
Next week, senior Mexican officials will hold meetings with Trump's top aides in Washington, to discuss bilateral relations such as security, trade and migration.
Meanwhile, Mexican presidential hopeful Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador announced plans to tour major U.S. cities in February, raising pressure on the government to assert itself with the Trump administration.
"Enough of being passive," Lopez Obrador's leftist Morena party said in a statement. "We should put a national emergency plan in place to face the damage and reverse the protectionist policies of Donald Trump."
Lopez Obrador, a populist known as AMLO, is leading in most early polls ahead of Mexico's 2018 presidential elections.
Morena, which he founded after breaking with Mexico's main leftist party, has vowed to fight corruption, disrupt a sweeping reform of the key energy sector and promote a more nationalist vision for the country.
The White House website says that Trump is committed to renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and would move to withdraw if no "fair deal" is forthcoming.
Many towns in Mexico are worried about another Trump promise, that he will make Mexico pay for a border wall, possibly by blocking wire transfers out of the United States from Mexican nationals.
"We shouldn't pay for the wall," said Christina Validez, waiting to pick up a wire transfer from her husband in the United States at a bank in Ixmiquilpan in the state of Hidalgo.
"It's the other way around, all United States presidents should be grateful that all the migrants have helped the economy."
The area around Ixmiquilpan, home to some 94,000 people, received about $100 million in foreign remittances in 2015, according to data from Mexico’s central bank, more than 10 times the municipal government's annual budget.
On his U.S. tour, the former Mexico City mayor - who finished second in the 2012 presidential vote - will meet people of Mexican origin living in major cities, starting Feb. 12 in Los Angeles, then to Chicago, Phoenix and others.
"We don't know if the government is defending us, if it's with us or not," said Margarita Escamilla, a legal resident in the United States from Ixmiquilpan visiting family.
"He (Lopez Obrador) is like all of them, saying he's going to defend migrants but who knows...they promise and promise and it stays the same."
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