DURBAN, Aug 8 – South African President Jacob Zuma on Saturday signalled a fresh start in United States relations, after cementing closer ties at a meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Clinton held a 45-minute meeting with Zuma, seen as a US ally on neighbouring Zimbabwe and fighting AIDS, as part of a 11-day African tour which comes just three weeks after US President Barack Obama visited the continent.
"We’ve always had relations with the US. In both countries there are two new administrations which are taking that relationship to a level higher. That is what we’re trying to do," Zuma told journalists after the meeting.
Clinton has hailed the new spirit of cooperation, saying it is Obama’s desire to "work closely" with Zuma, and on Saturday pointed to the strengthened cooperation with the continent’s largest economy.
"We have the same goals for a peaceful, progressive, prosperous continent," said Clinton.
"We have been tasked by our respective presidents — the (South African) foreign minister and I — to put meat on the bones so to speak. To get to work.
"To make sure that the expectations of both President Zuma and President Obama are met as we work more closely together on our bilateral relationship as well as on regional and global challenges that we need to be leading on."
The "broad-ranging, very substantive discussion" included Zimbabwe, Somalia and Sudan and the issue of climate change, Clinton added
Washington has hoped for a stronger relationship with Zuma after years of tension over Zimbabwe, the fight against AIDS and the US invasion of Iraq.
Zuma, before taking power in South Africa, has in the past supported a tougher line on Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe who led the country into political and economic crisis.
Former South African president Thabo Mbeki had bristled at US- and British-led efforts to punish former independence leader Mugabe, preferring a softer, African-led approach.
Mbeki brokered a deal finalised in February, nearly a year after disputed polls pushed the country deeper into crisis, under which Mugabe is sharing power with former opposition leader turned Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
Obama, whose African roots have won him respect across the continent, earlier this year invited Tsvangirai to the White House in a sign of support for reconciliation in Zimbabwe.
On Friday, the two countries vowed joint action to push for greater reforms in Zimbabwe, where the unity government has been plagued by reports of a crackdown on members of the former opposition and failure to agree on key posts.
The new government’s commitment to fight HIV also drew praise from Clinton at a visit to an AIDS clinic, and had a "very frank conversation" with the health minister.
South Africa has one the world’s worst-affected populations, with nearly six million South Africans now HIV positive, after failing to rein in new infections and roll out lifesaving anti-retrovirals during the Mbeki era.
"We have to make up for some lost time. But we’re looking forward," Clinton said.
After meeting Zuma, Clinton flew to Cape Town where she will visit a housing project in Cape Town and meet South Africa’s last white leader FW de Klerk who released Mandela from prison 19 years ago.
She leaves for Angola on Monday.