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Background Press Call by Senior Administration Officials on the Upcoming Visit of President Cyril Ramaphosa of the Republic of South Africa

September 15, 2022

Via Teleconference

2:36 P.M. EDT

MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. This is [senior administration official]. This call will be on background, for attribution to a "senior administration official." For awareness, not for reporting, on the line is [senior administration official].

The contents of the call will be embargoed until 5:00 a.m. Eastern time tomorrow, Friday, September 16th.

[Senior administration official], I'll hand it over to you to get us started.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Great. Thanks so much, [senior administration official]. And thanks for everyone for joining us.

President Biden is looking forward to hosting South African President Cyril Ramaphosa tomorrow. This is an opportunity for the two leaders to discuss shared priorities, including trade investment, infrastructure, climate and energy, health, as well as discuss several of the pressing regional and global challenges that our world faces.

This meeting follows their very productive call in April and the U.S.-South Africa Strategic Dialogue in August where Secretary Blinken led nearly 50 U.S. government officials and experts to meet with their South African counterparts.

We're very proud of our relationship with South Africa. There are some 600 U.S. companies based in South Africa, and it is the number one destination for U.S. foreign direct investment on the continent, reaching $21 billion in 2021.

Our health cooperation is a cornerstone of this relationship. We've provided over $8 billion in HIV/AIDS assistance since 2004.

President Ramaphosa, in particular, has been a leader on COVID-19 response, recognized by the African Union as a COVID-19 champion.

It shouldn't be a surprise that the two leaders are meeting so soon after the Biden-Harris administration released its new U.S. strategy towards Sub-Saharan Africa.

South Africa is a leading country in Africa and an important voice globally when we're addressing the era's most defining challenges, including ending the COVID-19 pandemic, tackling the climate crisis, reversing the tide of democratic backsliding, responding to the global food insecurity, and shaping the rules of the world.

President Biden is looking forward to consulting with President Ramaphosa on all of these topics.

And I'll add that Vice President Kamala Harris will be hosting President Ramaphosa at her residence for breakfast in the morning.

As the world faces growing divisions, we believe it's essential to engage with South Africa and have the benefit of the government's perspective. We can't make progress on our shared global priorities without South African leadership and contributions.

And before I open up for questions, I just want to note that our President, Joe Biden, has a long history on South Africa: traveling to the region as a senator, holding hearings on apartheid South Africa, returning to the region again when he was Vice President. He's very committed to and inspired by South Africa's long struggle for freedom, racial equality, and justice.

The call in April between the two leaders was warm and productive. And we have every expectation that tomorrow's meeting will meet that same standard.

So I'll open it up for questions.

Q: Thank you so much. I have two questions. One is about the extension of the nuclear energy agreement that was reached in, I believe, September. Could we see any possible deliverables from this, considering, of course, that South Africa is in an electricity crisis and also has a junk debt rating? Could we see anything come out of his meeting between the two presidents that could, you know, actually deliver something on that?

And then, secondly, what is the administration's thinking right now on the -- I'm going to really try not to mess this up -- the Countering Malign Russian Activities in Africa Act? If it does pass the Senate -- first of all, does the administration think it should pass the Senate? And number two, if it does, will the President sign it?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Anita, thank you so much for that question. Regarding the legislation, since that is still pending in Congress, I prefer not to comment on it at this point.

With respect to our cooperation on energy issues, you know, we are supportive of South Africa's Just Energy Transition. We and our partners -- the U.K., the EU, France, Germany -- made a commitment for $8.5 billion to assist South Africa in its plans.

The U.S. portion of that was $1 billion. And we expect the two leaders to talk about South Africa's energy challenges, power challenges, and our commitments to help them make good on their ambitious goals.

Q: But just to be clear, any further announcements tomorrow -- any deliverables?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We're going to have to wait until tomorrow to announce deliverables.

Q: Hi, [senior administration official]. Thanks very much. Yeah, I mean, I must ask the inevitable Ukraine question: How do you think that will be discussed? I'm not sure it's going to be a high priority, but I guess it'll come up. And what are President Biden's expectations might be from President Ramaphosa?

And if I may also ask about the Just Energy Transition. And Minister Pandor expressed some concerns yesterday that the loan -- the components of that $8.5 billion -- might be looking bigger than South Africa originally expected or wanted, and could kind of burden South Africa with extra debt. And I just wondered if you could -- if you could talk to the, kind of, breakdown between loans and grants and whatever in that -- in that Just Energy mix? Thanks.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure. Thanks so much, Peter, for those comments. It's good to hear from you, again.

The two presidents are going to talk about a range of issues, both bilateral and as well as sort of what's happening in the region and the world. And Russia's war against Ukraine will be one of those components.

In April, the leaders had a frank and open conversation about what was happening in Ukraine. And there was a lot of listening, a lot of consultation, a lot of working through what is the best approach to get to outcomes that we all share. I suspect that that will be the same tenor for this conversation.

As the conflict has evolved, we are eager to hear South Africa's perspective on -- on how do we reach a just conclusion to the conflict, and what are the means to do that. And it's, -- it's our view, it's embodied in the new U.S.-Africa Strategy that the importance of talking to our African partners on global issues to make -- to hearing their perspective. And then from that conversation, to have a more effective, thoughtful, inclusive policy.

So I think it's going to be very productive and very insightful for both sides, as we consult on this issue and other issues, globally.

With respect to JETP, there are -- I think after COP26 there were some questions about sort of the mix of loans and grants. We have had extensive conversations with the South Africans, including at the Strategic Dialogue and following Special Envoy Kerry's recent trip to be -- to get more granular about those -- about the mix of grants versus loans and our commitments, in particular, to support businesses and deals that move through the pipeline to support the Just Energy Transition.

And so, the two leaders tomorrow will certainly advance that conversation. And we'll be ready to talk about how we support them above and beyond the commitments that we've already made.

Q: Hello. Hello?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hi, Kemi. We can hear you.

Q: Oh, okay. Thank you. Thank you very much. My question is yesterday, Minister Pandor on the Council on Foreign Relations mentioned that on the local stage that they will -- South Africa would like to see the U.S. and China working together. I was wondering whether you could share your view of whether that's something that the President and President Ramaphosa will talk about tomorrow.

I also wanted to find out is -- I know a lot of African presidents and ministers have been invited to the White House. I was wondering whether you could tell us when President Biden or Vice President Harris will visit Africa.

There are people that are saying that, "Okay, we understand that the U.S. is renewing (inaudible) relationship, but what about when will they visit? When will the President visit the continent?"

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, Kemi.

Why don't I take the first part, which is, in the last weeks and months, our administration has really kicked into high gear in terms of our engagement with the continent.

Administrator Power traveled to Kenya and Somalia. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield went to Uganda and Ghana. Secretary Blinken went to South Africa, DRC, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Rwanda. We announced our Africa Leader Summit in Marrakech, Morocco. We announced that there was going to be an African Leader Summit during the Corporate Council on Africa event in Marrakech; the summit will be in Washington, DC. And then Vice President Harris just met with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, of Nigeria.

So there's been a high clip of engagements, including tomorrow's meeting between the two presidents. And we're really focused on a very successful summit in December where we've invited heads of states to engage with the whole of our government on a range of issues.

So I think we want to really end 2022 on a high note, and I think we've made a number of strides towards elevating and engaging with many of our counterparts across the region.

With respect to China, I think the President would welcome a conversation on China with President Ramaphosa. As I said earlier, we want to have Africans in the conversation. We are solicitous of their views. They have experience dealing with China. They have positive and negative views, and it's really important, particularly as the world is seemingly more divided, to have honest conversations about the role of the great powers across the region.

And a country like South Africa, which is a prominent voice in the Global South, the only African member of the G20, important in the G77 and will be the chair of the BRICS -- Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa -- grouping next year. I think his insights and perspectives are going to be really consequential as we continue to develop our policies and to engage globally.

Q: Thank you.

Q: Thanks very much indeed, and thanks for doing this. It's hugely useful. A couple of questions. First, will there be any kind of formal declaration that you're anticipating emerging from this meeting on Friday? Is there any paper that's going to be signed and distributed?

Is there going to be a joint press briefing afterwards? There was talk over the weekend of a joint appearance by the two presidents in the Rose Garden following their meeting. Is that taking place or not?

I also wanted to push you a little bit on Peter's question about Ukraine. Yesterday, at the Council, the Foreign Minister of South Africa indicated that the business-to-business relationship was -- as she put it, needed to be paramount and strong. And as she put it, as to whether I should make a Secretary of State (inaudible) or like me that's less important.

Is it the U.S. government's position that the trade issue is of paramount importance when compared for example to progress on the issue of Ukraine?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, Simon. Let me do the logistics part first. The two leaders will meet in the Oval Office. There will be a brief press spray at the top where both President Ramaphosa and President Biden will give short remarks. And then we will issue our own readout. I refer you to the South Africans if they are going to do the same.

The trade relationship is of paramount importance. As I said earlier, we are going to be talking about bilateral issues -- issues that the two presidents identified in their April phone call as some of the most important, which is trade and investment, energy and climate, infrastructure and health. And those topics will be covered in the President's meeting, as well as in -- some of them will be covered in the Vice President's meeting.

And in addition to that, we will talk about global issues. But, it's really important for us to do both. As I said at the top, South Africa is our largest trading partner in Sub-Saharan Africa. It's where our companies often base their headquarters in and are doing important investments.

So we have a number of issues -- I think we all share a commitment to deepening that trade, increasing and expanding it. And so I know that will be a conversation about what steps do we take from -- to go forward and to expand that really important relationship.

Should we go on to another question?

MODERATOR: At this time, there are no other questions in queue.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay. Well, thank you, everyone, for your time. We're looking forward to this engagement and we appreciate your interest.

MODERATOR: Thank you, everyone. As a reminder, this call was on background for attribution to a "senior administration official." The embargo will be lifted at 5:00 a.m. Eastern time tomorrow. Thanks again.

2:55 P.M. EDT

Joseph R. Biden, Background Press Call by Senior Administration Officials on the Upcoming Visit of President Cyril Ramaphosa of the Republic of South Africa Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/357893

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