Mandela gives Clinton lesson in friendship

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The Independent Online
PRESIDENT Bill Clinton kept on smiling. But he must have been squirming as President Nelson Mandela, standing beside him, told the world that South Africa would not be bullied into abandoning its Iranian, Libyan and Cuban allies, enemies of the United States.

Mr Mandela, 79, had to lean on Mr Clinton as they walked to the joint press conference at Tuynhuys, his Cape Town residence. But he needed no support from the American president when it came to foreign policy. Cuba's Fidel Castro and Iran's former president Hashemi Rafsanjani were among the first heads of state invited to the new South Africa, said Mr Mandela. "I have also invited [Muammar] Gaddafi ... because moral authority dictates that we should not abandon those who helped us in the darkest hour."

Some say Mr Mandela's great failing is blind loyalty. But yesterday he said that South Africans who criticised him for it could "go jump in a pool". It was clear he felt there was room in the water for the Americans.

If Mr Clinton was looking to smooth over policy differences, Mr Mandela was working from a different script. He praised Mr Clinton for having the "right instincts". Mr Clinton had been a friend of South Africa before he became president and his visit was the "high watermark" of the Mandela government's first term. But Mr Mandela dismissed America's new "trade not aid" approach to Africa and the related African Growth and Opportunity Bill. Mr Clinton insists the legislation will increase African nations' access to the American economy but South Africa believes the continent's economies will suffer in the proposed trade relationship with the rich US, and that aid will be cut.

President Clinton's pledge that a new era of equal partnership was being started between Africa and the US was tested by what appeared to be a lecture. Mr Mandela turned Mr Clinton's admiration of the South African "miracle" to his advantage. The US, he said, could sit down with its enemies - as the ANC had done with the old apartheid leaders - and talk peace. "I have no doubt that the role of the United States as the world leader would be tremendously enhanced," said Mr Mandela.

Mr Clinton did not respond to Mr Mandela's point, preferring to praise him for the huge part he had played in the improvements that the US claims are under way in Africa. Mr Mandela's life was one of the "truly heroic stories of the 20the century".

Despite the plain talk, the two presidents later walked arm in arm around Robben island, where Mr Mandela spent most of his 27-year incarceration.

"This is my former home," said Mr Mandela, showing the tiny cell he occupied. "You know it was so big at the time. I don't know why it's so small now." President Clinton, more than half-way through the first tour of Africa by a US president, said he thanked God Mr Mandela had survived and that his "heart had not been turned to stone".