Mr. Obama told reporters aboard Air Force One that he will accede to the wishes of the Mandela family on whether they want him to visit the 94-year-old former South African president in a hospital. Mr. Mandela is said to be on life support.
“I don’t need a photo-op, and the last thing I want to do is to be in any way obtrusive at a time when the family is concerned about Nelson Mandela’s condition,” Mr. Obama said. “Right now, our main concern is with his well-being, his comfort, and with the family’s well-being and comfort.”
If he can’t meet with Mr. Mandela, the president said, he would deliver a message to the Mandela family about “our profound gratitude for his leadership all these years, and that the thoughts and prayers of the American people are with him, and his family, and his country.”
Mr. Obama met Mr. Mandela in Washington in 2005, when Mr. Obama was a newly elected senator from Illinois.
“I think the message will be consistent because it draws on the lessons of Nelson Mandela’s own life — that if we focus on what Africa as a continent can do together and what these countries can do when they’re unified, as opposed to when they’re divided by tribe or race or religion, then Africa’s rise will continue,” Mr. Obama said.
The president Friday departed Senegal, where he promoted efforts to improve food security there and in other African nations.
His week-long trip, which is costing taxpayers up to $100 million, will conclude next week in Tanzania.