Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Obama in South Africa Ties Economic Message to Mandela Will Convey Gratitude to Country's Ex-Leader While Walking 'Diplomatic Tightrope'

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Obama in South Africa Ties Economic Message to Mandela Will Convey Gratitude to Country's Ex-Leader While Walking 'Diplomatic Tightrope'

Article excerpt

JOHANNESBURG -- President Barack Obama arrived today in South Africa for a three-day visit to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela's legacy as the world monitors the failing health of the 94-year-old anti-apartheid leader.

The U.S. president traveled from Senegal, where he kicked off a mission to promote trade and investment across the African continent by underscoring the importance of democratic values to economic growth.

While Mr. Mandela's condition has weighed on the entire trip, it will be most felt in the South African icon's home country, which Mr. Obama plans to draw on as a symbol of what's possible.

"If we focus on what Africa as a continent can do together and what these countries can do when they're unified, as opposed to when they're divided by tribe or race or religion, then Africa's rise will continue," Mr. Obama told reporters traveling to South Africa aboard Air Force One. "That's one of the essential lessons of what Nelson Mandela accomplished not just as president, but in the struggle to overcome apartheid and his years in prison."

Mr. Obama, who had just one face-to-face meeting with Mr. Mandela, in 2005, said he will defer to the family on a potential visit with the ailing leader, who lies in a Pretoria hospital after weeks of treatment for a lung infection. Aides said a meeting is possible with members of the Mandela family, although they have had little contact.

"I don't need a photo-op," Mr. Obama said. "But I think the main message we'll want to deliver ... is simply a profound gratitude for his leadership all these years, and that the thoughts and prayers of the American people are with him and his family and his country."

Mr. Obama is forging ahead with the trip, even with the visit's potentially uncomfortable -- albeit profound -- timing. Given the delicacy of the situation, Mr. Obama will have to walk a "diplomatic tightrope" with his events in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town, said Richard Downie, deputy director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

"The U.S.-South Africa relationship is prickly at the best of times," Mr. Downie said. …

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