Vice President Al Gore concluded his trip to South Africa on Monday by pledging continued cooperation with the young democracy despite recent announcements that the government of President Nelson Mandela wants to sell arms to Syria.
Although both sides attempted to portray the three days of talks as upbeat, the South African government has been warned that the United States may cut economic assistance if it sells tank equipment to Syria.
That U.S. response, in turn, has upset South African leaders who have argued that their country has a right to sell armaments to the Syrians or anyone else.
Such a sale by South Africa would run counter to U.S. policy, since Syria is on the State Department list of nations accused of sponsoring terrorism. If such a sale took place, the United States would be forced by law to suspend financial assistance to South Africa.
Peppered with questions about the Syrian matter, Gore repeatedly declined to give details. “Certain issues are best discussed in private,” said Gore.
Deputy President Thabo Mbeki, Gore’s counterpart in the South African government, said that “like any relationship, ours cannot be free of occasional disagreements.”
To demonstrate some spirit of collaboration, Gore and Mbeki signed a tax treaty meant to encourage commerce between the two nations.
The ceremony at the Castle, a historic fort in downtown Cape Town, came at the end of the third meeting of the U.S.-South Africa Binational Commission. The commission was formed to help solidify the friendship between the United States and South Africa.
The joint commission held discussions in six areas of mutual interest: trade and investment; science and technology; sustainable energy; human resources development and education; agriculture, and conservation, environment and water.
The agreements have generally been incremental in nature. For instance, Gore said, the United States has agreed to install 2,500 voltaic systems in South Africa to “make cheap and clean electricity more widely available” in rural areas where there often is no reliable electricity.
The United States also agreed to open Federal Bureau of Investigation and Drug Enforcement Administration offices in South Africa.