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(Reuters) - U.S. officials should be respectful of the Mexican 2018 presidential election, Mexico's foreign minister said on Thursday, after a top U.S. security official suggested a win by a leftist candidate would be bad for both nations.
Speaking with senators on Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly agreed with Republican Senator John McCain's view that "if the election were tomorrow in Mexico, you would probably get a left-wing, anti-American president of Mexico. That can't be good for America."
Kelly, who was speaking at a Senate committee on homeland security and governmental affairs hearing, echoed that viewpoint.
"It would not be good for America or for Mexico," he said.
Though Kelly and McCain stopped short of naming anyone in particular, their comments were seen in Mexico as a clear swipe at leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a populist who many see as the frontrunning candidate in the 2018 presidential election.
Speaking at a news conference in Washington on Thursday, Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray said he broached the issue with Kelly.
"I told him in a respectful but clear manner that the electoral decisions ... correspond to Mexicans alone and that what we expect from the United States is respect towards the Mexican electoral process," Videgaray said.
For his part, Lopez Obrador rejected the accusation that he was "anti-American."
"Our relationship with the United States will be one of friendship and cooperation, but not one of submission. We are a free and sovereign nation," he said according to a press release.
Regarding the looming renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, Videgary said Mexico would prefer to conclude the talks this year rather than in 2018, when the Mexico's election takes place.
Some view Videgaray, a former finance minister now leading complex trade, security and migration negotiations with the Trump administration, as a possible presidential candidate in 2018 for the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party.
Reporting by Ana Isabel Martinez and Anahi Rama; Writing by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Tom Brown