Biden and South African leader to discuss Ukraine, trade and climate

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden hailed South Africa as a vital voice on the world stage as he welcomed President Cyril Ramaphosa to the White House on Friday for talks that focused on the two nations’ differences. about Russia’s war in Ukraine and more.

In a brief media appearance at the start of their meeting, Biden made no direct mention of Ramaphosa being among African leaders who maintained a neutral stance in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. . South Africa abstained in a United Nations vote condemning Russia’s actions and calling for a mediated settlement.

But the president seemed to offer a subtle acknowledgment that the two countries have their differences.

“We really have to make sure we fully understand each other,” said Biden, who praised Ramaphosa for his country’s leadership in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact of climate change and the impact of climate change. other problems.

After the meeting, Ramaphosa told reporters that South Africa’s position on the conflict was “respected” and that he and Biden had agreed that they “want this conflict to end as soon as possible.”

Ahead of the meeting, South Africa’s Minister for International Relations, Naledi Pandor, said South Africa would focus on finding a way out of the war in Ukraine when it attended the Assembly’s annual meeting. General of the United Nations next week.

“We would like to see a diplomatic process between the two parties and we believe that the UN must lead, the UN Secretary General in particular,” Pandor said.

The White House meeting followed Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to South Africa last month, during which he said the Biden administration viewed all 54 African nations as “equal partners” in the solving global problems.

But the administration was disappointed that South Africa and much of the continent refused to follow the United States in condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

During Blinken’s visit, Pandor accused the United States and other Western powers of focusing on the Ukrainian conflict at the expense of crises around the world.

“We should be just as concerned about what happens to the Palestinian people as we are about what happens to the Ukrainian people,” she said.

The Biden administration, meanwhile, has sought to point out that Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian Black Sea ports has led to shortages of grain, cooking oil and fertilizer, disproportionately impacting Africans.

South Africa’s neutral stance is largely due to the Soviet Union’s Cold War support for Ramaphosa’s African National Congress in its fight to end apartheid, the South African regime of crackdown against the black majority that ended in 1994. South Africa is seen as a leader of several African countries that will not take sides against Russia.

Despite differences over the war in Ukraine, the Biden administration recognizes the importance of strengthening relations in Africa as China has spent decades entrenching itself in the continent’s natural resource markets. Improving relations with South Africa – one of the largest economies on the continent – is at the heart of the American effort.

John Stremlau, an international relations expert at the University of the Witwatersrand, said the talks underscore that the United States sees South Africa as having the “potential to constructively lead Africa” ​​on trade and development. ‘other questions.

Earlier Friday, Ramaphosa met with Vice President Kamala Harris for wide-ranging talks. The vice president’s office said in a statement that Harris and Ramaphosa discussed global health security, space cooperation, climate change, women’s empowerment and other issues as they met. over breakfast at the Vice-President’s residence.

In a brief exchange with reporters before his meeting with Harris, Ramaphosa said he would like to see relations between the two countries strengthened.

South Africa’s ambitious efforts to switch from coal to cleaner energy were also discussed during the leaders’ talks. The United States, Britain, France and Germany last year announced a plan to provide $8.5 billion in loans and grants over five years to help South Africa eliminate gradually coal.


Magome reported from Johannesburg.

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