The United States and South Africa agree on just about everything, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and South African Deputy President Thabo Mbeki said Saturday.
Except for Sudan.
Except for Libya.
Albright met Mbeki, President Nelson Mandela’s heir apparent, to dramatize the generally good relations between the United States and post-apartheid South Africa. Unlike the earlier stops on her seven-nation, seven-day tour of Africa, South Africa measures up to Washington’s idea of what an African state should be - democratic and capitalist.
“The relations between the United States and South Africa are very good,” Mbeki said at the start of a joint news conference with Albright. “We tried to look for problems, and we didn’t find any.”
Albright said the meeting demonstrated “the similarity of our views” on a range of regional and bilateral issues.
But there are potential irritants just below the surface. For instance, Mandela angered the Clinton administration by paying a friendly visit earlier this year to Moammar Gadhaffi in Libya. Mandela maintains that he will not turn his back on the Libyan leader because Gadhaffi supported the battle for racial justice in South Africa when apartheid was still the law.
Asked at the news conference if she had pressed Mbeki on relations with Libya, Albright replied: “We did not find many disagreements. Those that we have, we talk about privately. We think those issues are best handled by private diplomacy.”
Later, when Albright paid a courtesy call on Mandela, the president made it clear that he had not changed his mind.
The two governments also are pursuing diametrically opposed policies toward Sudan, where the Muslim-led government has waged a 19-year war against an insurgency by Christians and adherents of traditional African religions.
The United States accuses the government of religious persecution and of supporting terrorism, especially against neighboring countries. Earlier in her trip, Albright met with leaders of the insurgency, promising political support but no money or arms.
Mbeki said South Africa is trying to mediate an end to the conflict by meeting with government and rebel leaders.
In essence, the disagreements between the United States and South Africa over Libya and Sudan indicate that the relationship has matured enough so that it will not unravel if South Africa establishes its own foreign policy priorities.
But Joel Barkan, senior fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and a longtime expert on democratization in developing countries, said, “South Africa is back in the family of nations and doing very well, but they also should shoulder some responsibilities like not selling arms to rogue states or sending (their) president to visit rogue states.”
Later Saturday, Albright flew to Cape Town to help launch a new program to combat domestic and racial violence established in honor of Amy Biehl, the 26-year-old California woman who was murdered in 1993 in a racial attack that shocked the United States and South Africa.