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Report: South African President Wrote Bush Should Not Interfere in Zimbabwe

A former White House speechwriter says South African President Thabo Mbeki is warning U.S. President George Bush to stay out of the political crisis in Zimbabwe. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, Zimbabwe's longtime ruler Robert Mugabe is facing a runoff next month to extend his 28 years in power.

Former White House speechwriter Michael Gerson says South African President Mbeki wrote a letter last month, addressed to President Bush, accusing him of taking sides against Zimbabwean President Mugabe, and of disrespecting the views of the Zimbabwean people.

In a column for The Washington Post, Gerson quotes an unidentified U.S. official, who says the letter said the U.S. should not interfere in Zimbabwe's political crisis, that it is an African issue.

Senior Bush administration officials have frequently expressed their disappointment with President Mbeki's efforts as a mediator in neighboring Zimbabwe. While confirming receipt of the Mbeki letter, U.S. officials would not publicly discuss its contents, saying it was a private communication.

Asked if President Bush still has confidence in the South African leader, National Security Council Spokesman Gordon Johndroe said Washington continues to hope that President Mbeki will play a positive role in the region.

President Mbeki has long been seen as a major ally of President Mugabe, in part because he backed South Africa's African National Congress in its fight against apartheid.

But Mr. Mugabe's party lost March elections to the main opposition party of Morgan Tsvangirai. Mr. Tsvangirai failed to get more than 50 percent of the vote, so the two men will face off in a runoff election June 27.

Since the March election, Mr. Tsvangirai has rejected President Mbeki as a mediator.

Even before that vote, President Bush said the South African leader could have done more. In a February roundtable with reporters, Mr. Bush said there has been little progress since he embraced President Mbeki as an honest broker in Zimbabwe five years ago.

"I was hoping that the South African government would have been more proactive in its intercession to help the people of Zimbabwe," he said. "That's not anti-anybody. It's pro-people and that has yet to happen."

Mr. Tsvangirai is promising sweeping economic and political reforms, saying President Mugabe has made Zimbabwe an unmitigated embarrassment for Africa.

President Mugabe says Mr. Tsvanigari and his allies are stooges of former colonial power Britain. Mr. Mugabe's wife Grace told a rally that her husband will never leave office unless he is replaced by someone from his own party.