Background Briefing by Senior Administration Officials
The Briefing Room
1:15 P.M. EDT
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Good afternoon. This a visit, of course, it has been prefigured for several months going back to the election period and the inauguration when Vice President Gore and Mrs. Clinton represented the United States at the inauguration.
Let me say, the State Department, from a foreign policy point of view, South Africa really is central to U.S. interests in and U.S. hopes for Africa. The transition that negotiated a revolution, in effect, that brought the end of apartheid, we believe is an example to societies elsewhere -- in Africa, indeed elsewhere around the world -- that are wrestling with problems of ethnicity and national reconciliation.
And moreover, South Africa's successful transition can become the cornerstone for a period, an era, of peace and stability throughout Southern Africa. South Africa itself, we believe, can contribute to creating that peace and stability and indeed already is in a variety of different ways -- and we can come back and talk about that.
Economically, the end of South Africa's isolation creates the condition for South Africa's reintegration into the regional economy as well as into the global economy. And the potential there for economic recovery, economic activity and growth is significant. And indeed that is why the Department of Commerce has declared Southern Africa as one of its big emerging markets, as they were referred to, because of that potential for economic growth and development, and the opportunities that that can create for American business.
President Mandela arrives against a backdrop of significant progress in South Africa itself. And I think the most salient factor of that progress has been the continuing honeymoon in South Africa and the aftermath of the elections. He enjoys tremendous standing in the country right now. His poll ratings are, I think, enviable by any standards. He has 70 percent to 75 percent in all communities, and that's across the board.
He's continued to demonstrate the same kind of active and energetic leadership that we saw in the run up to the elections and throughout the inauguration period. And that's particularly evident in the way in which he's managing the government. He has made function his concept of consensus government. And you'll recall that many of us had questions about how that was actually going to work. In talking to people who have been in the Cabinet, are in the Cabinet, indeed it's working far better than many had any reason or right to expect.
And beyond that, he has managed to convey and project the goal of national reconciliation. Relationships among communities in South Africa with rare exception are about as harmonious as they've ever been. He's extended his welcome even to groups which were not participants or winners in that election; and that includes across the spectrum from the far left to the most conservative elements.
That statesmanship has also been demonstrated throughout the region. At the urging of many of us, the United States included, he took an active interest in Angola. And I think some very carefully timed communications contributed by UNITA of the package offered by the U.N. mediation.
In Mozambique as well, he has encouraged the conclusion of the process there -- looking toward elections later this month. Indeed, South Africans are making a tangible contribution because elements of the South African electoral commission will be supporting the Mozambiquan electoral commission in that election on the 27th and 28th of October. I think most importantly in the Lesotho, where there was a palpable attempt to unseat a democratically-elected government, where the statesmanship of President Mandela along with President Mugabe and others in the region was key in reversing that attempted coup.
So South Africans at the moment are feeling very good about their leader; and indeed, they're feeling very good about themselves. And that's important because it is a propitious context in which the new government, the new country has to tackle what we all acknowledge is a fairly daunting agenda of social and economic problems.
Among those problems, simply to reiterate, they are the same ones which we all acknowledged going into the elections -- unemployment, particularly in township areas remains unacceptably high -- 40 percent to 45 percent in many areas. The demands for social infrastructure are tremendous -- estimate a need for roughly two million housing units in South Africa, electrification, education, another social infrastructure. Economic discrepancies in the country are, I think, still of a magnitude to cause concern. Median incomes between whites and blacks is at a ratio of about one to nine, nine to one in that reverse order.
We have seen, in the wake of the elections, evidence of the kind of high expectations we know are there. The most visible manifestation has been in a number of series of labor strikes, some of them threatened to turn violent, which involved security forces. But in each case, I think the thing that is most encouraging has been the manner in which the government has responded to those crises with a measure of both firmness and tact in a way that has averted, avoided major labor unrest and has solved problems before they became major drains on the economy.
I think the one area where we all now realize that the challenge is particularly difficult, and that has been in restructuring -- quite literally, reinventing -- the South African government. Where four state governments previously existed and several homeland governments, we now have a new federal government with nine new regional governments, all of which have to be somehow carved out or crafted out of the previous jurisdictions. That is taking more time, I think, than we realistically had expected it would take. It is a problem that the government has to wrestle with because it is -- it has become a constraint on their ability to elaborate and to implement the very well-planned redevelopment and reconstruction plan.
It is an area where we have sought to be helpful, and others have as well, for example, in providing expertise to local -- the newly-emerging provincial governments, by pairing them with our own state governments to give them a bit of advise and assistance. But ultimately, it is a problem that the South Africans themselves will have to work their way through.
So it is a daunting agenda, and one of the things that we will be discussing with the South Africans and with President Mandela during his visit here to define new ways in which we could try to be helpful and supportive.
Our objectives for the visit I think are fairly straightforward. Number one, we want to recognize and support the leadership and the statesmanship that President Mandela has exhibited, his inclusive approach to politics and his commitment to national reconciliation. Secondly, it's an opportunity for us and for Americans generally to celebrate South Africa's peaceful liberation transition and the contribution, the significant contribution, I believe, that Americans made to that transition.
Beyond the important moral support, however, it's an opportunity to elaborate the forms of our future cooperation, building on the plan or the program that the President announced last May at the time of the elections and the inauguration.
Just to complete my introductory remarks, the purpose of this -- the point of this visit is to emphasize that, indeed, this is an important relationship to us. It's important in terms of our foreign policy objectives. It's also a mature relationship. It is one that is based on reciprocity. The South AFricans have an awful lot that they're bringing to the table -- bringing in terms of their influence and their capacities in the region, in terms of the potential that their economy holds, not only for regional development but global development, and the opportunities that creates for us here in the United States, and important in terms of advancing objectives which we believe are mutually held, both in Africa and beyond.
So it's an opportunity to underscore just how important that relationship is to us and to build some further elements of that relationship while President Mandela and his delegation are here in town.
I think I will end my remarks there. I think my colleague would like to say a few things as well, and then perhaps we can take some of your questions.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: What I thought I'd do is talk a little bit about the personal relationship between the two presidents; talk a bit about elaborating on some of my colleague's comments about cooperation with South Africa, both bilateral and on regional issues throughout Africa. And then I thought it would useful to go through the schedule for you and sort of highlight some of the larger initiatives that we're going to be talking about.
To begin with, this visit is a combination of a summit and a celebration. It is a chance for Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela to build on what is an outstanding personal relationship. Mandela was last here at the White House July 2nd of last year, along with state President de Klerk. The President then went up and spent the Fourth of July in Philadelphia providing an opportunity to express his commitment to the process of democratization in South Africa. He presented a freedom medal to state President de Klerk and Nelson Mandela in Philadelphia at that time.
The two Presidents have spoken, communicated through letters, cables, et cetera virtually every month since then. They talk about once every couple months. Usually there is an issue that they're addressing in the conversation, but then the conversation goes on to talk about what is going on in each of their countries.
To a very great extent, President Clinton views Nelson Mandela as the embodiment of two of the great trends that he is deeply concerned about. One being the movement of societies in transition to successful national reconciliation -- and whether that is in Russia or Eastern Europe or South Africa, our attempts to support that. And secondly, the issue of racial harmony. The President has often said that his own interest in politics in America was inflamed overwhelmingly by his opposition as a child to racial segregation in his own state and in his own community. And to a great extent, he views strong similarities between the effort at civil rights in the United States and the fight against apartheid in South Africa. He has said that the successful transition of South Africa constitutes a stern rebuke to the cynics of the world, and that is a quote.
That is in part the reason why last May the President announced our $600 million three-year assistance package for South Africa. And at the time, he also wrote to the leaders of the other G-7 countries and urged them, as well, to expand their assistance to South Africa. And in part, the visit now is a chance to review progress under that program. We have already provided well over a third of that level to South Africa, and we've talked before about the emphasis we've put on housing and electrification and promotion of private sector development.
And if I can elaborate on George's point, this is a relationship that is very important for us as well. We are trying to encourage development in South Africa in part because of the benefits that it accrues to us. Fifty thousand American jobs today are created because of exports to South Africa. We currently have a billion dollars worth of investment in South Africa, which constitutes about half of our total non-oil investment in Africa.
On the other hand, just a decade ago we had $3 billion worth of investment in South Africa. And so there is a tremendous opportunity to pursue new investment projects within South Africa, and much of our funding is designed to support private enterprise.
Beyond the bilateral relationship, as my colleague was saying, we see a very mature relationship in dealing with mutual concerns throughout Africa. He has referred to the efforts in Angola and Lesotho, and Mozambique. In addition, the two Presidents have a deep concern about what's happening elsewhere in Africa, and they have discussed on several occasions the need to work together to address issues like debt relief for African countries; to address issues of conflict resolution, how we can prevent problems from erupting as they have in Rwanda and other places in Africa -- and in addition, an attempt to deal with the oversized armies that many African countries have.
These initiatives, which in large part came out of the White House Conference for Africa, are going to be on the agenda for this visit, and in fact, President Mandela, you may be aware, taped a message for that conference, where he walked through some of the things that he was concerned about. And in the three and a half months since the conference concluded we have pursued a number of those agenda items.
To go through the schedule for you, President Mandela arrived in New York on Saturday in the morning. He rested during the day on Saturday at the Rockefeller estate. Yesterday he went to a church in Harlem. He had a reception hosted by Mayor Giuliani. He then met briefly with Mario Cuomo.
This morning he has addressed the U.N. General Assembly in a speech just completed. He is having lunch with Boutros-Ghali, and this afternoon will be hosting his own reception. This evening he is meeting with the National Foreign Trade Council, which is a group of American businesses that are very interested in South Africa. Many of them are companies that stayed in South Africa during the period in which sanctions were in place. Many of them are companies that actually divested from South Africa. And so this is an opportunity for President Mandela to pursue new opportunities for private sector investment. Tomorrow morning, he meets at breakfast with a number of the very top CEOs in America. This is being hosted by Rockefeller, as well as Tony O'Reilly, who is the CEO of Heinz and has very close South African connections.
Mandela arrives tomorrow morning at Andrews. He will then helicopter into the Washington Monument and will be at the White House for a ceremony at 11:00 a.m. tomorrow. He will, after the official arrival ceremony, have a meeting with the President to review the variety of issues that will be coming up throughout the visit. This will be in the Residence, and it will be essentially one on one.
The next item is a luncheon at the State Department, which will be hosted by Secretary of State Christopher -- about 200, 250 people to be invited. He then will meet with the Black Caucus on the Hill, somewhere around 2:00 p.m. right after the lunch. And then his next activity is the state dinner on tomorrow evening. He will then return to Blair House, where he will be staying throughout his visit.
On Wednesday, he has a number of private activities, including a visit to the Museum for Women in the Arts. He comes to the White House for a luncheon that the President is hosting for the Congressional Black Caucus, after which will come the extended meeting with the President and his top advisers. We will then have a press availability about 3:00, 3:15 p.m. on Wednesday. And a number of the initiatives which we are working out will most likely be announced at that point.
After the press availability, the next activity is a Project Hunger dinner that evening. Project Hunger is an organization that sponsors development projects to address hunger throughout the world, but especially in Africa. And Nelson Mandela is their recipient of their annual award this year. The President is expected to make comments before that dinner.
On Thursday, most of the activity occurs on the Hill. President Mandela is expected to deliver a statement to the Joint Session of Congress. He also has meetings and a luncheon hosted on the Hill. Thursday night, AfriCare is hosting dinner. And we expect the Vice President to attend that dinner and give remarks. That is going to be a very large and very important event, perhaps 2,000, 2,500 people in attendance.
On Friday, President Mandela will go to Arlington National Cemetery to lay a wreath. You should understand that there is a special relationship between Robert Kennedy and South Africa in the minds of many South Africans. Bobby Kennedy went to South Africa in the mid-'60s and put himself, as well as the world community, on record as opposing the apartheid system. And it was one of the first expressions of international opprobrium for the system in South Africa. It was a very important event for a lot of South African blacks. And so again there's a special meaning there.
President Mandela is then going to do a variety of other activities in the luncheon and afternoon time. We understand he's going to be addressing the National Press Club on Friday. He may have an activity with Howard University Law School as well. And then the South African Embassy is hosting a reception for him on Friday. Senior officials from the White House will be attending. I don't think the President will.
That is the basic schedule. He is scheduled to leave Friday, Saturday. I understand that's still up in the air.
Q: Didn't you tell us last week that he was going to be staying at the White House Tuesday night? You said Blair House.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. There were some difficulties with that. It just logistically became very difficult to put together, so he will not, at this point, be staying that evening. It was just a lot simpler for him to stay at Blair House throughout the visit.
Q: There was also some initial talk about him being with Aristide sometime during his visit. Has that jelled at all?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There were a series of requests that we received from members of Congress to communicate to Mandela their interest in having him do that. We have communicated that interest. That is up to the South Africans to decide. He has, obviously, a very charged schedule at this point. From our point of view, Nelson Mandela has an important message for anyone of national reconciliation, support for democracy, drawing people together. And obviously, that would be an important message for President Aristide as he faces the challenge that he has ahead of him. But that's clearly for the South Africans to decide.
Q: Is President Clinton going to go to South Africa, and might that be announced at this meeting?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We don't expect that to be announced during this visit. The President has said on a number of occasions that he very much wants to go to South Africa, and it's just a question of figuring out the timing and --
Q: But there was some talk at some point maybe in January or something. Is that out the window now, or what's the latest status?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's still being discussed, but there's been no decision on that.
Q: Just a reminder -- did Mandela and de Klerk jointly address Congress last year. Was there a congressional joint meeting?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. When they came they had separate meetings at the White House, they had separate meetings on the Hill, and then they had the joint activity in Philadelphia.
Q: Where does he go from here? When he leaves where does he go?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Mandela flies directly back to South Africa.
Q: Is there anything new on South Africa's consideration of participating in the Haiti -- sending police or military forces?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The short answer is no. As you know, we had issued a general appeal to a number of states for their consideration of participation in the Haiti exercise. South Africa was one of them. As far as we understand, that's still under consideration, but we are not aware that any decision has been made.
Q: As long as you're up there, at the luncheon tomorrow, what do you expect -- just remarks by Mandela and Christopher, or anything else with these CEOs?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There will be brief remarks by both. There are some separate events intended, directed at the business participants, but not following the lunch tomorrow. I don't have any details of that schedule. But, essentially, it will be remarks by Secretary Christopher and by President Mandela.
Q: What is the U.S. government doing to foster American business investment in South Africa, which was, of course, the prime activity of President Mandela today?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We've done a whole series of things, actually going back to even before the elections. I recall that Secretary Brown led a delegation, a mission to South Africa in November of last year, and during that period as well, OPIC signed its initial agreement with South Africa to provide investment insurance and coverage for Americans seeking to invest in South Africa.
Much of the package that my colleague referred to earlier, a major point of emphasis in that package, various elements of it are to encourage and, indeed, to provide incentives for American businesses wishing to do business in South Africa. It's particularly true for American small- and medium-sized businesses, providing both capital and insurance and incentives to their participation and their joint ventures with South AFricans.
We have Ex-Im Bank, which has agreed to provide as much as the market will bear in terms of support for American exports. I think the most recent development was the inaugural meeting of the U.S.-South Africa Business Development Council here in Washington, chaired jointly by Secretary Brown and by Minister of Trade and Industry Trevor Manuel in South Africa. Again, that's a forum which brings together Americans and South AFricans of the business community with a view to facilitating exchanges and increased commerce between their two countries.
There's a whole array of things, and I think we'll have an opportunity later in the week maybe to elaborate on some of those.
Q: Are there going to be associated meetings put together by the Business Council or the Commerce Department while he's here?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There is an intention to do that. I know that OPIC is planning to do something tomorrow afternoon. So we're going to try to take advantage of the visit to organize such meetings.
Q: Will business leaders be invited to the White House State Dinner?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There are a good many business leaders invited both to Secretary Christopher's lunch tomorrow, as well as to the State Dinner.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: As long as we're talking about the State Dinner tomorrow, let me -- yes, there will be business leaders invited. There are also a whole variety of luminaries. This has been, I am told by the White House personnel staff, the hottest ticket since the beginning of this administration. And judging by the number of old friends who are giving me a call, who I haven't heard from for years and years, I suddenly have become exceptionally popular.
Q: We're going to make you the press secretary for the central office.
Q: Well, are you helping them out? Are you getting them in? (Laughter.)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Is that another request?
Q: There goes your popularity.
Q: Can you drop any celeb names -- Barbra Streisand -- what celebs are invited?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You'll see tomorrow.
Q: How many are coming?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Somewhere just over 200, we expect.
Q: Who was the last President to go to South Africa?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't know that any president has ever gone to South Africa. Jimmy Carter was the last President to travel to Africa, with the exception of the George Bush trip to Somalia, but that goes back 15 years.
Q: On the international cooperation, Mandela has stated in the past many times that he supports Fidel Castro. He got a lot of help in his conflicts with the -- Are you going to discuss this? Do you think he may change his position?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think Mr. Mandela, actually in South Africa, has said publicly that he does not intend to have this be part of the discussion when he's in Washington. We do understand that he has a somewhat different position than the we do understand that he has a somewhat different position than the United States does, but he has said publicly he doesn't intend to raise this when he's here.
Q: Do you expect any more deals along the lines of the Pepsi deal announced today while he's here?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There will be other deals announced, we expect, during the course of this visit. I actually haven't seen the deal that you're describing. I know Pepsi has been trying to get back into South Africa for quite sometime.
I hope, just a sort of final comment, there is an excitement around this White House that we have not seen for quite sometime. This is a very exciting event for all of us. It is obviously President Mandela's first visit as President of South Africa. The President, five months ago, gave an interview where he, on April 20th, was predicting that South Africa would make a smooth transition and expressed his excitement about the process, expressed his belief in the process, such that the journalists who were present really questioned whether he had an understanding of what was going on in the country. In fact it has -- the developments in South Africa have matched or even exceeded the President's expectations.
There is another recent poll that was conducted in South Africa where they went and asked people today, have the events over the course of the last five months matched what you expected; have things actually gone better or have things gone worse? Fifty percent said that things had gone better than they had possibly expected; 41 percent said things were about as they expected; only 9 percent said that things were actually worse than they had anticipated. And a 91 percent approval rating is not bad.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:49 P.M. EDT
William J. Clinton, Background Briefing by Senior Administration Officials Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269438