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Zimbabwe Seen as Likely Focus of Bush Talks in South Africa - 2003-07-08

George W. Bush arrives in Pretoria Tuesday on a visit to South Africa, one of five countries on his first tour on the African continent as American president.

Zimbabwe will be one of the main topics of discussion between President Bush and his South African host, President Thabo Mbeki, when they meet Wednesday in Pretoria.

Mr. Bush and his senior officials have been severely critical of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe and his government, going so far as to call Mr. Mugabe's rule tyrannical and demanding that he step down.

Mr. Mbeki has taken what he calls the route of quiet diplomacy, seeking to persuade and encourage change while avoiding causing anger in Harare.

Professor John Stremlau at Johannesburg's Institute for International Relations says that despite the differences in style, South Africa and the United States see eye to eye on Zimbabwe.

Professor Stremlau said that the vocal criticisms expressed by Mr. Bush's administration, coupled as they are with promises of assistance in exchange for change in Zimbabwe, strengthen Mr. Mbeki's hand in his efforts to negotiate a solution in Zimbabwe.

Francis Kornegay, program coordinator at the Institute for International Relations, told VOA that it is unlikely Mr. Bush will seek to force terms on Mr. Mbeki. Instead, he said, the two are likely to discuss ways to dovetail initiatives to achieve the goal of regime change in Zimbabwe.

"Rather than necessarily asking South Africa to do any one particular thing, I think that obviously President Bush and President Mbeki will want to have an exchange of views on the situation in Zimbabwe," predicted Mr. Kornegay. "And rather than there being any prescriptions, have an exchange of what the options are and how the situation can be moved along, because the situation in Zimbabwe is complex, and South Africa is in a very awkward situation in trying to deal with that crisis."

Professor Stremlau says the most important and difficult item on the agenda for the two leaders is the fundamental difference in how each approaches issues of international importance.

Under Mr. Bush's leadership, the United States has increasingly sidelined multi-national organizations such as the United Nations and has chosen to build coalitions specific to American goals.

South Africa is strongly committed to seeking consensus both regionally and globally on international issues and supports multi-national bodies as the means to do so. This approach was also the basis on which former South African president Nelson Mandela conducted his foreign policy and is deeply rooted within the ruling African National Congress.

Even though Mr. Bush will be warmly received by Mr. Mbeki and his government, many South Africans are deeply opposed to his administration's foreign policies, particularly in places such as the Middle East, Afghanistan and Iraq. Protest marches are expected in all major centers.

Among the most critical has been Mr. Mandela himself, who has said that unlike British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Mr. Bush is a small man who is unable to take political criticism.

Mr. Bush is the first international leader to visit South Africa who will not meet with Mr. Mandela. He has chosen to be out of South Africa for the duration of the U.S. president's tour through Africa.