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Friday, August 7, 2009

US, S.Africa working together on Zimbabwe: Clinton


The United States and South Africa committed Friday to joint efforts to realise democracy, freedom and prosperity in Zimbabwe, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Friday.

"We're working together to realise the vision of a free, democratic and prosperous Zimbabwe," Clinton told a media briefing with South African International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane.

"We're going to be closely consulting as to how best to deal with what is a very difficult situation for South Africa and for the United States, but mostly for the people of Zimbabwe," Clinton told journalists on the second stop of a seven-nation African tour.

The pledge signals a shift in tone between Pretoria and Washington with relations uneasy in recent years due to sharp agreements over Zimbabwe, the fight against AIDS and the Iraq invasion, under former president Thabo Mbeki.

The US has been one of long-serving Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's fiercest critics, pushing for evidence of reforms under the new unity government with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

Both the European Union and the US maintain a travel ban and asset freeze on Mugabe, his wife and inner circle in protest at controversial polls last year and alleged human rights abuses by his government.

"We are attempting to target the leaders of Zimbabwe with sanctions that we think might influence their behaviour without hurting the people of Zimbabwe," said Clinton.

The country's former rivals formed a unity government this year which has stemmed a devastating economic crisis, but has been hit by claims of a crackdown on the former opposition and failure to agree on key posts.

Clinton, speaking in Nairobi at the start of a seven-nation African tour, said she would ask South Africa to "use its influence to mitigate against the negative effects of the continuing presidency of President Mugabe".

A tougher stance in the past by South Africa's new President Jacob Zuma has raised hopes for a stronger relationship with the US, and Clinton is due to meet Zuma on Saturday as she criss-crosses South Africa.

The South African leader pledged this week to raise "weighty issues" plaguing the unity government with Mugabe after a briefing with Tsvangirai.

US President Barack Obama had a special desire to work closely with Zuma and South Africa, Clinton said, adding that Pretoria played a central leadership role on the continent which was a high foreign relations priority.

Commenting on previous relations in the Bush-Mbeki era, Nkoana-Mashabane said while she had not felt "a chill", the decision to move the bilateral relationship forward was exciting.

"We have agreed today that what has not been happening in the past eight years is that most of time our relations were happening without proper co-ordination," she said.

Clinton who visits Nelson Mandela and goes to an AIDS project later Friday, leaves South Africa on Sunday for Angola. The 11-day trip is her longest since becoming Secretary of State and her first to sub-Saharan Africa.

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