Wednesday, October 29

A very interesting press conference by the out going Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Walter Kansteiner.

Mr Kansteiner wobbles and weaves around Zimbabwe, but basically says it is South Africas problem:

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) I mean, you have this unique position, unlike the Europeans, who've got this colonial baggage. You could have really put the pressure on, if you'd wanted to.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KANSTEINER: I think that our approach was -- we're 7,000 miles away. You know, the neighbors are one meter away, across a river or across a boundary line. We want to be supportive of those neighbors, as they deal with the problem. And we are supportive of those neighbors, and we are there to cajole and push and encourage. But as President Bush said, when he was in Pretoria a few months back, we look for the neighbors to be the leaders.

On Americas relationship with South Africa:

QUESTION: South Africa. The Bush Administration has had kind of bumpy relationships with Johannesburg. Can you review, you know, the differences over Iraq and HIV, and forecast the future?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KANSTEINER: Well, I think our bilateral relationship with South Africa is terrific. I, personally, look at South Africa as a real leader of the region. Not only do they have this tremendous economic platform to grow themselves, but grow the neighborhood, but they also have the political and diplomatic skills to be real leaders on the continent. I mean, look what they've done in Burundi, for instance. If it hadn't been for the South African involvement in Burundi, I really don't think we would have gotten the significant movement on the ceasefires and the rebel groups coming in. What they did in the Congo was tremendously helpful.

So I think their leadership potential is huge. The bilateral relationship is very good in that top leaders, both President Mbeki and President Bush, as well as cabinet-level officers speak regularly, and sub-cabinet. You know, I'm on the phone with my South African counterparts all the time. So there's good, good dialogue. And when we do disagree, we certainly know that we're going to have different perspectives on things, and we agree to disagree and we move on to the next issue. So no, I think it's a very healthy, mature relationship.

And on Libya and its meddling in Africa:

QUESTION: Do you have an assessment of Libya's influence in Africa as a whole, and whether this is good or bad?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KANSTEINER: I really ought to leave that to Bill Burns to answer. But from the African perspective, as I kind of sit south, look north, I see a Libyan interest in sub-Saharan Africa. I see their influence waxing and waning at times; sometimes they become more interested. You know, there was a -- there was this kind of great barrage of involvement with Zimbabwe a year or two ago. That seems to have now waned and lessened. There's been some interest in contact with West Africa -- the Charles Taylor connection we all heard about.

But, in general, I see a lessening of involvement on a -- on a problematic basis. You know, the manipulation stuff I see less of. The political involvement is still very much there. I mean, you know, Qadhafi pitches up for the AU stuff all the time and so he's, you know, he's trying to gain some political leverage there. But, generally, it seems right now we're in a lessening mode, a waning mode.


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