Mandela criticises 'world's policeman'

Crisis in the Gulf
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President Nelson Mandela yesterday criticised US attacks on Iraq, arguing that no country had the right to assume the role of "policeman to the world".

While he did not condone Iraq's attacks on Kurdish rebels, he said that the US should respect the UN Charter and seek to resolve problems by peaceful means.

The President rounded on the US twice. Responding to American criticism of a two-day state visit to South Africa by President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani of Iran, Mr Mandela made it clear that South Africa would not bow to pressure from Washington in the choosing of its own friends.

The Americans were angered by the visit of the head of a country it accuses of sponsoring international terrorism and were dismayed at the prospect of stronger ties between Iran and South Africa, which relies on the Gulf state for more than 60 per cent of its oil.

Yesterday Mr Mandela said that Israeli and US concerns would not influence relations between South Africa and Iran. "The enemies of any particular country are not our enemies," he said, after a meeting with President Rafsanjani.

The forthright comments may dismay some South African foreign-affairs officials who have been trying to play down the gulf between South Africa and the US over the Iranian visit, saying that the US's wrath had to be weighed against South Africa's national interest.

President Rafsanjani used his visit to accuse the US of wanting to preserve its "illegitimate" presence in the Gulf. Iraq had provided the pretext for it to do that.