- The Washington Times - Monday, August 6, 2012

JOHANNESBURG — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will meet Tuesday with South African leaders in the capital, Pretoria, amid somewhat strained relations between the two democratic nations.

South Africa consistently has voted against U.S.-led measures in the United Nations on human rights in Myanmar and Sudan. Pretoria also spoke out against the NATO campaign to topple then-Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who was close to the leadership of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress.

Tuesday’s meeting will cover a variety of issues, such as Syria, bilateral trade, democracy in Africa and U.S. aid, including a program to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS.

U.S. Ambassador to South Africa Donald Gips, who is traveling with Mrs. Clinton, downplayed the tenseness of the relationship.

“We have excellent relations, but that doesn’t mean we agree on everything, and this is what makes the link so special,” Mr. Gips told The Washington Times on Monday. “There is space to speak frankly as only friends can do.

“Sometimes we are on the same page, as with HIV and piracy; sometimes we differ in our take on debates at the United Nations,” he said. “But there is nothing we cannot discuss openly with each other, and that is the real measure of friendship.”

On Monday, Mrs. Clinton visited 94-year-old Nelson Mandela at his home, paying her respects to the venerable anti-apartheid icon and the country’s first democratically elected president.

In frail health, Mr. Mandela rarely receives visitors at his home, 500 miles southeast of Johannesburg.

After a private lunch with the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Mrs. Clinton said she was inspired by “the discipline that he brought to a life filled with so many great achievements, not only for him personally, but for South Africa and the world.”

South Africa is the United States’ largest trade partner in the region. Last year, retail giant Wal-Mart spent $2.4 billion to buy the majority stake in a chain of local stores. Fast-food companies McDonald’s and KFC also have significant investments here, along with several U.S. banks.

Until recently Germany had been South Africa’s top investor, with the U.S. second.

But China has become South Africa’s top investor, while also spending billions elsewhere on the continent amid accusations by human right groups that Beijing is supporting rogue regimes in Somalia, Sudan and Zimbabwe.

At the start of her Africa tour last week in Senegal, Mrs. Clinton said Washington would “stand up for democracy and universal human rights, even when it might be easier and more profitable to look the other way” — a clear dig at communist-ruled China.

China’s state-owned Xinhua News Agency hit back, saying the secretary of state was “ignorant” and guilty of making “cheap shots.” Her “implication that China had been extracting Africa’s wealth for itself was utterly wide of the truth,” it said.

After touring South Africa, Mrs. Clinton will visit Nigeria, Benin and Ghana before flying to Turkey for talks about the deteriorating situation in Syria.

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