Mbeki, Bush cement relations

10 July 2003

A toast between President Thabo Mbeki and visiting US President George W Bush, proposed by the former, sealed a relationship between the two countries at a luncheon hosted by Mbeki for about 250 guests in Pretoria on Wednesday.

Mbeki said the Americans had offered their unwavering support to South Africa during the struggle era and during the post-democratic dispensation to overcome the challenges it faced.

“As the eminent representative of such a people, Mr President, we could not but receive you as a friend and an honoured guest,” Mbeki told Bush.

A few hours before the luncheon, the two leaders held discussions on political, economic and social issues. These included conflict resolution on the continent, the post-war Iraq, the Zimbabwean crisis, HIV-Aids, and trade relations.

Addressing the media after the meeting, Mbeki said his government was pleased by the commitment shown by the US to assist both South Africa and the continent. “The visit will result in strengthened bilateral relations and strengthened cooperation to meet these and other challenges that we face together,” he said.

In response, Bush said he appreciated the relationship between the two administrations, describing it as vital. “Mr President, I want to thank you for making it a vital relationship,” he said, adding that the partnership could help extend democracy, free markets and transparency across Africa.

On Zimbabwe, Bush said the US would encourage the South African government to continue engaging the warring parties in that country, adding that Pretoria and Washington shared the same objectives on the manner in which the political, economic and social turmoil in Zimbabwe could be resolved.

“I have no intention of second-guessing [Mbeki’s] tactics. We want the same outcome,” Bush said. “Mbeki is the point man in this important subject, he is working very hard and is in touch with the parties involved, and the US supports him in his efforts.”

Mbeki assured Bush that the warring factions in Zimbabwe – the government and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change – were engaged in talks to solve the problems in that country.

Mbeke reiterated, however, that the principal responsibility for the resolution of those challenges lay with the Zimbabweans themselves. “It is very important that they should move forward with urgency to find resolutions to these questions,” Mbeki said.

Bush also lauded efforts by Pretoria to forge peace elsewhere on the continent, particularly in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

He said the US was heartened by South Africa’s decision to increase its HIV-Aids budget, reiterating that his administration would provide $15-billion to Africa in the next five years to combat the disease.

“Trade is the key to Africa’s economic future. The African Growth and Opportunities Act is creating jobs and stimulating investment across the continent,” Bush said.

Bush arrived in South Africa on Tuesday from Senegal as part of a five-nation tour of the continent. He leaves for Botswana on Thursday, from where he will head for Uganda and Nigeria before returning to the US.

Source: BuaNews