[Sorry, the video for this story has expired, but you can still read the transcript below. ]
GWEN IFILL: Ray Suarez has today’s report on the president’s trip to Africa.
RAY SUAREZ: South Africa was stop number two on President Bush’s five-nation trip. Mr. Bush met with South African President Thabo Mbeki. The two men talked about civil wars and conflicts in several African nations. Among them, Burundi, ravaged by civil war and rebels of ethnic majority; the Congo, where recent tribal fighting has killed thousands of people. The wider civil war has killed an estimated three million people since 1998. And Zimbabwe, where the president refused to step down. He has been criticized for rigging last year’s election and cracking down on the opposition groups. Mugabe’s government confiscated land from white farmers adding to growing food shortages in Zimbabwe. The two presidents discussed the situation in Zimbabwe, among other topics, at the press conference in Pretoria today. Here are some excerpts.
PRESIDENT THABO MBEKI: We’ve had very good discussions with the president; able to cover quite a wide field. We’re very pleased with the development of the bilateral relations, strong economic links, growing all the time, continued attention by the U.S. corporate world on South Africa is very critically important for us. 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.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: South Africa is playing a critical role in promoting regional security in Africa, and we discussed the president’s leadership, for example, in Burundi. South Africa has helped achieve the peaceful inauguration of a new president. Or in the Congo, South Africa brokered an agreement on the creation of a transitional government. And in Zimbabwe, I’ve encouraged President Mbeki and his government to continue to work for the return of democracy in that important country.
REPORTER: I wonder if the two presidents have found the best approach or have agreed about the best approach to deal with Zimbabwe. I see that it is has come up. Can we get from the smiles that you now have a formula to deal best with Zimbabwe? ( Laughter )
PRESIDENT THABO MBEKI: I didn’t know, president, that we’d expressed sharp differences.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: That’s right. ( Laughter )
PRESIDENT THABO MBEKI: No. We are absolutely of one mind, the two governments. President Bush and myself are absolutely of one mind about the urgent need to address the political and economic challenges of Zimbabwe. It’s necessary to resolve this matter as quickly as is possible. We have said, as you would know, for a long time that the principle is rooted, principal responsibility for the resolution of these problems rests with the people of Zimbabwe; and, therefore, have urged them– both the ruling party and the opposition, the government and the opposition– to get together and seriously tackle all of these issues. We had discussed this matter earlier, sometime back, with the U.S. Government that we have to find, we’ve got to find a way of getting a political solution and we would, indeed, count very much on such economic, financial support as would come from the United States afterwards, in order to address urgent challenges that face Zimbabwe. So we didn’t fight about any of what I’ve just said.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: We were smiling because we were certain a clever reporter would try to use the Zimbabwe issue as a way to maybe create tensions which don’t exist. Look, Zimbabwe is an important country for the economic health of Africa. A free, peaceful Zimbabwe has got the capacity to deliver a lot of goods and services which are needed on this continent in order to help alleviate suffering. And it’s a very sad situation that’s taken place in that country. Look, we share the same objective. The president is the person most involved; he represents a mighty country in the neighborhood who, because of his position and his responsibility, is working the issue. And I’m not… not any intention of second-guessing his tactics. But the president is the point- man on this important subject. He is working it very hard. He’s in touch with the parties involved. He is… he’s making… he believes, making good progress, and the United States supports him in this effort.
RAY SUAREZ: And with me now is “New York Times” correspondent Richard Stevenson, who is traveling with President Bush. Richard, welcome. What were the topics that dominated the conversations between President Bush and president Mbeki?
RICHARD STEVENSON: The three big ones today were: Aids, South Africa has one of largest H.I.V.-Positive populations in the world; Liberia, the president told President Mbeki about his conversations about the U.S. Participating in a peacekeeping force there sometime soon; and Zimbabwe, a nation that borders South Africa, where the United States is looking for a change of government.
RAY SUAREZ: When the topic is AIDS, it would seem they do have a lot to talk about, South Africa being such a large sufferer of the disease and President Bush having promised money, any specifics that they discussed publicly about differences in approach, about whether they are on the same wavelength when it comes to combating the disease?
RICHARD STEVENSON: Well, there are very definitely some differences of approach here. President Mbeki is known for being a skeptic about the efficacy of the main drug treatment for aids: Anti- retrovirals. He has in the past expressed some skepticism as to whether HIV causes AIDS. He is under a lot of pressure from advocacy groups from other governments to become much, much more aggressive in dealing with this problem here– one that is hurting South Africa’s economy, its long-term population growth, and its overall stability. So, President Bush arrived here able to put on the table an offer for South Africa to be one of the first beneficiaries of the $15 billion, three-year program that he proposed in the state of union this year. And he wanted to use, “he,” President Bush, wanted that as leverage to push President Mbeki along a little bit faster, particularly when it comes to delivering anti-retroviral drugs to HIV-positive people in South Africa.
RAY SUAREZ: Is there concern on the American side that once the money is appropriated that it won’t be spent properly, that it won’t get to those who need help in places like South Africa?
RICHARD STEVENSON: To some degree, although the way that this particular program is set up, it’s largely bilateral aid, meaning that the United States will work out specific deals with the specific countries to which it is giving money, including South Africa, for particular types of programs, particular benchmarks. President Bush named a former pharmaceutical executive, named Randall Tobias, to run this whole program the other day. They are hopeful that they will be able to control where the money goes and how well it’s used better than foreign aid programs have in the past.
RAY SUAREZ: On the subject of Liberia, was the president any more detailed or forthcoming about what the nature of the American involvement would be?
RICHARD STEVENSON: He was not really, although he dropped some hints that one of his focuses is going to be on having Americans train peacekeepers from West African nations, from the economic community of the West African states, or Ecowas, which announced late today that it I was going to send 1,000 peacekeepers into Liberia. The president is still hedging on whether or not he is going to commit American troops. He briefed President Mbeki on his discussions in Senegal with a group of West African leaders yesterday. But he didn’t advance at all his own thinking about where that’s going to go. He continues to say that he is going to wait for the report of the pentagon team that’s on the ground assessing the situation there.
RAY SUAREZ: And much closer to South Africa is the crisis in Zimbabwe. Recently, Secretary of State Powell criticized the South Africans for their approach, but today, the two presidents seemed to not want to give any details about what their differences are.
RICHARD STEVENSON: Both presidents really made a point of saying they were absolutely on the same page on this, but it was still pretty clear that there are some differences of opinion, at a minimum about the pace of the effort to try to dislodge Robert Mugabe from power in Zimbabwe. You know, President Mbeki has a long history with Mugabe. Both of them fought for years against white rule in southern Africa. He may be, understandably from his point of view, somewhat reluctant to become the agent of change in the Zimbabwean government. On the other hand, South Africa has a stake in a stable, prosperous Zimbabwe just to its Northeast. And so, I think he understands that he needs to work with the United States on this issue. At the end of day, administration officials were telling us that there was a sense that the two leaders understood their differences, but would work to use their complementary approaches in a positive way. Whether that will yield anything or not is hard to say. There’s no question that Mbeki was a little bit bitter, particularly at Secretary of State Colin Powell for his comments recently suggesting that South Africa just wasn’t doing enough.
RAY SUAREZ: One of President Bush’s severest critics during the run-up to the war in Iraq was the father of the modern South Africa, Nelson Mandela. Is he, in any evidence during this trip, will he see President Bush?
RICHARD STEVENSON: He will not. We’re told by the White House that Nelson Mandela is not in the country; that there was really no opportunity or real consideration given to the two of them meeting. I’m not sure that either side particularly would have relished it. President Bush did cite Mandela yesterday, when he was on Goree Island in Senegal talking about the history of slavery, and both how Africa and the United States had tried to overcome that legacy. But there’s been very little talk about him here. Mandela of course isn’t the only one in South Africa who has been concerned about the American posture toward Iraq and unilateralism, militarism in general. There was a fairly large protest outside the U.S. Embassy here today. But you know, it’s interesting, beyond Mandela, President Bush really isn’t seeing a whole lot of South Africans at all. He did go today to a Ford Motor Company plant. He met some of the workers and executives there. But aside from that, he is not out and about very much, and not seeing a whole lot of what I guess would you call the real South Africa away from the government buildings, and so forth. He is not going anywhere near Soweto, for example. He’s not speaking in public to any big crowds here. So, he is getting kind of a restricted view of what’s going on in this country.
RAY SUAREZ: Richard Stevenson joining us from Pretoria. Thanks a lot.
RICHARD STEVENSON: Thank you, Ray.