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SA-US talks floundering, says Nkoana-Mashabane

SA-US talks floundering, says Nkoana-Mashabane
Maite Nkoana Mashabane
Published date:
Friday, 18 September 2015

International Relations and Co-operation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane has acknowledged that there has been a breakdown in communication between Pretoria and Washington and that both sides have accepted that it needs to be fixed.

Friction over SA’s eligibility for trade benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) and SA’s refusal to co-operate with the Obama administration in its efforts to cut global stocks of weapon grade uranium are part of a list of factors complicating a relationship SA itself has seemed to downgrade in favour of ties with China and Russia.

"We have agreed that we need more and more interaction to strengthen our bilateral relations," she said at a joint news conference with her US counterpart, Secretary of State John Kerry, at the close on Wednesday of the latest in a sporadic series of meetings branded the "US-SA Strategic Dialogue".

In three days of meetings, working groups from both sides reviewed co-operation on regional security, trade and investment, and public health, Mr Kerry said. The only concrete outcome either side announced was agreement to form a new "energy co-operation group" that would focus on "energy security and diversification".

No further details were provided, but Mr Kerry did praise the South African government "for promoting renewable sources of energy and seeking to diversify electricity production". The US, he said, was now "the leading investor in clean energy in SA".

On regional security issues, Mr Kerry complimented President Jacob Zuma and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa for their Lesotho diplomacy and said South Sudan had "a great deal to learn from SA’s experience with justice and reconciliation".

On health, he said the US had "invested more than $4.3bn" in fighting HIV/AIDS in SA under the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief programme.

"In coming years, SA will be the first country in the region to fully manage the care and treatment programme on its own. That’s a significant milestone," he said.

On trade, Ms Mashabane said the dispute with US chicken producers had been settled. Mr Kerry would not go that far. "We talked about the need for improved access for US exports — of chicken, beef and pork — in order for SA to benefit fully from Agoa’s generous trade benefits," he said.

Mr Kerry repeatedly used the word "partnership" to characterise US-SA relations. It was not part of Ms Mashabane’s lexicon. She spoke of "bonds based on values and principles that we cherish".

Mr Kerry stared at her when, echoing Mr Zuma’s foreign policy address earlier in the week, she attributed the current refugee crisis to the US and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation "bombardment" of Libya in 2011. "If we did not choose to do what has taken place in Libya, we wouldn’t be having so many Libyans, Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans leaving their homes as migrants to nowhere."

The last "Strategic Dialogue" was held in SA in August 2012 when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state.

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