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Bush, Mbeki Express Agreement In Pretoria

Bush, Mbeki Express Agreement and Empathy During Pretoria Visit

(Sense of cooperation underlay their meetings)

By Jim Fisher-Thompson Washington File Staff Writer

Pretoria -- On his first full day in South Africa, President Bush July 9 met and broke bread with President Thabo Mbeki as the two leaders discussed a wide range of security and development issues in talks that lasted close to four hours. The conversations, they agreed, helped strengthen U.S.-South African relations.

The morning began with a formal meeting at the Union Building Complex standing majestically on the slopes of Meintjieskop overlooking Pretoria, before the leaders and their wives, Laura Bush and Zanele Mbeki, descended to Mahlambandlovu, the Cape Dutch-style State Guest House, for a formal news conference and a luncheon.

Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Walter Kansteiner, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card as well as Bush's daughter, Barbara, also attended the event that was held under the jacaranda trees on Mahlambandlovu's immaculate lawn with a backdrop of blue winter skies.

President Mbeki expressed his pleasure at the tone and substance of the meetings. "We have had very good discussions with the president. We're very pleased with the development of the bilateral relations, strong economic links growing all the time."

Mbeki said the meeting "also gave us a chance to convey our thanks to the president for his support with regards to meeting the African continental challenges that include questions of peace and security and the NEPAD [New Economic Partnership for African Development] processes."

Turning to Bush, Mbeki added, "I must say, President, that at the end of these discussions, we, all of us, feel enormously strengthened by your very, very firm and clear commitment to assist us to meet the challenges that we've got to meet domestically and on the African continent. And therefore, President, thank you very much, indeed, for coming. The visit will certainly result in strengthened bilateral relations."

Bush responded in kind: "I appreciate our strong relationship -- and it is a vital relationship. Mr. President, I want to thank you very much for working hard to make it a vital and strong relationship. We've met quite a few times in the recent past and every time we've met I've felt refreshed and appreciate very much your advice and counsel and your leadership."

Responding to press questions, Bush reiterated many of the points that are becoming the themes for the visit. He repeated his call for President Charles Taylor to leave Liberia and said he is committed to working with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to enforce a cease-fire in that country.

He also said he would be asking Congress for more AIDS funding because "the cost of anti-retroviral drugs has dropped substantially." The president also expressed U.S. agreement with the way President Mbeki is handling the Zimbabwe crisis.

The aura of friendship and cooperation extended to the luncheon that followed the news conference where Mbeki congratulated Bush on his 57th birthday, which he celebrated July 6. Mbeki said, "I'm happy that during your short visit to our country we have managed to discuss a number of issues that confront both of our countries and the world in an open and friendly manner."

He continued: "As the eminent representative of such a free world, we would not but receive you as a friend and honored guest. Thank you very much, Mr. President, for calling on us, accompanied by your dear wife and daughter and your distinguished compatriots."

Following the luncheon, President Bush and his wife went to the Pretoria suburb of Mamelodi to tour a Ford automobile plant that assembles 250,000 vehicles a year. The plant received the U.S. Secretary of State's Award for Corporate Excellence in 2000, in part because of its strong program of procurement from small, black-owned firms. Altogether, Ford employs 4,200 people in its facilities in Pretoria and Port Elizabeth.

A senior administration official told the press that the president had a chance to speak with individual workers as he toured the line. While there he also participated in a roundtable discussion that focused on corporate responsibility toward AIDS victims.

The president and his wife ended the day with a dinner at Ambassador Cameron Hume's residence with a group of prominent business leaders. Hume is a career diplomat who has been in South Africa since November 2001.

© Scoop Media

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