U.S.-South Africa Strategic Dialogue
Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs
MS. PAGE: Okay, thank you very much. I think you all are aware that this afternoon the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane signed a memorandum of understanding, laying out a framework for strategic dialogue between the United States and South Africa. Secretary Clinton and Minister Nkoana-Mashabane proposed the creation of this mechanism last year during the Secretary’s August visit to South Africa. Basically, the strategic dialogue will reinforce cooperation in key areas, such as health, education, food security, law enforcement, trade, investment, energy, and nonproliferation. Of course, this is just a list that we are starting with, but it by no means constrains the other areas that we may include.
Secretary Clinton and Minister Nkoana-Mashabane will lead the strategic dialogue, and the strategic dialogue will be informed by meetings of the Annual Bilateral Forum. The next Annual Bilateral Forum, or the ABF, is scheduled to be held in Pretoria from May 12th through 13th, and the U.S. delegation will be led by the U.S. Ambassador to South Africa, Donald Gips. And we have plans to move forward on the dialogue immediately thereafter the ABF takes place.
So I will stop there. We do have – this is a handout so you can – as a press release, and you can - please free to ask questions.
QUESTION: Could we start with a very basic one? Why did the Secretary and the minister see a need for this new framework for something above and beyond existing bilateral organizations?
MS. PAGE: Yeah, basically – you didn’t state your name for the record.
QUESTION: Oh, I’m sorry – Nicole Gaoutte, Bloomberg News.
MS. PAGE: Thank you. The Secretary when she went to South Africa – we’ve had a long relationship with South Africa, but it has not always been extremely close. With the inauguration of President Obama and President Jacob Zuma, this has really changed. People are very excited about the relationship, about these two energetic presidents, and really wanted to forge a stronger relationship. So of course, we talk all of the time, but this is really meant to be a really demonstrable way of increasing our cooperation and having a sort of formal structure in which to participate and enliven the discourse.
QUESTION: Christophe Schmidt with AFP. Last week, or was it two weeks ago, a similar agreement has been signed with Nigeria. And we’ve been told at the time that Nigeria – well, South Africa, along with Nigeria and perhaps Angola was really the key country seen by the U.S. as a key country in Africa. Can you elaborate on that?
MS. PAGE: Yes. During the Secretary’s trip in August, she did hold discussions with the leaders of the three countries that you mention – South Africa and Angola and Nigeria. And it was decided at that time to launch – they’re called slightly different, but basically bi-national commissions, strategic partnership dialogues or strategic dialogues, so for some reason they’re each called slightly differently in the three countries. But it was really meant as a way to show our commitment to these administrations in the three countries that we really wanted to step up our cooperation and have an ongoing dialogue beyond really just what is the normal diplomatic exchanges that we, of course, always do in the course of our work.
So this is really meant to highlight specific areas where we could have smaller working group discussions that would be – that would feed into an overall higher level dialogue that would be often at the secretary level for us and the minister of foreign affairs level for the foreign country, and that it would also be a way to coordinate the work of the working groups to feed into the work of the annual bilateral forums, in the case of South Africa or other larger strategic partnership dialogue. So it’s a way really of showing our commitment to working more closely together with these countries.
MR. TONER: Next question.
QUESTION: Sorry, sorry.
MR. TONER: That’s okay. We literally just finished our briefing so it’s --
QUESTION: We’re a little discombobulated.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) no, just if I may ask perhaps more specifically about South Africa. So how is it seen as a key country, a country with which you need to have – to step up the relationship?
MS. PAGE: Well, with South Africa, you will probably recall during the Clinton Administration we had actually started these bi-national forums with South Africa, and there are bits and pieces of that that have carried over, but not in all cases and not at the sub-level, sort of the committee level. And so we’ve really seen – I mean, our exports to South Africa are the largest in Sub-Saharan Africa. We have – these are strategic partners. South Africa has taken on a much greater role in the international community. They’re an important member of the Non-Aligned Movement. They’re members of the G-77. So for South Africa, in particular, it’s really quite important. They’re an anchor on the continent, certainly post-apartheid. At the G-20 meeting last year in the summer, very helpful. President Zuma was extremely helpful to President Obama at Copenhagen. These are ways that we feel that are important that we can continue the collaboration and really make it at a deeper level, because it has – it’s sort of gone in spurts, and this is really a way to kind of formalize that – the relationship.
QUESTION: Do you see – I mean, obviously –
MS. PAGE: Can you state your affiliation?
QUESTION: Oh, sure. It’s Elise Labott with CNN. Hi. Sorry, we came in a little late. In terms of – obviously, when you think of South Africa and the international community, you think of the kind of – whole sanctions effort and also how you got them to give up their nuclear program so long ago. And I was wondering if you – if there’s any role they can play in terms of Iran or other countries perhaps, like maybe kind of take a page from our book, say for example.
MS. PAGE: Yeah, I don’t want to speak too much about the past because they voluntarily gave up their nuclear weapons long ago, so that wasn’t so much – I don’t want to overstate the case of what our role was in that effort. I mean, we have to remember that apartheid was ongoing at the time and so I’ll leave it at that. But in terms of the cooperation with respect to some of our multilateral goals, Iran – I mean, as you know – I’m sure this is what your briefing was just about – the nuclear summit just ended. I’m sure these were issues that were discussed between President Zuma and President Obama. We do see them, especially on the Non-Aligned Movement, as a strong NAM member, that this is where we believe that they can be quite helpful. They’re – South Africa has a really strong constitution, starts right off with the bill of rights. They believe very strongly in human rights protections, so I think we can go quite far with them.
Of course, being good friends doesn’t always mean you agree on everything, but I think that this is an area that we intend to be able to work with them on.
QUESTION: Hi. I’m Courtney Kube with NBC News, and I apologize because you probably have touched on this. Can you just give me sort of – and I’m also kind of new to covering the State Department, so can you just sort of explain to me in English and simplify what this sort of even means, that you’ve established this strategic dialogue? I mean, what is it – I see that, you know, key area is health education, but what practically are we going to see out of this dialogue?
MS. PAGE: Okay. So essentially, as you know, our dialogues with all countries around the world we have our ambassadors, we have multilateral fora, we have regular meetings. In the case of South Africa, and I mentioned it earlier, based on the Secretary’s trip to Africa in August of last year, there were three particular countries that she focused on establishing a strategic dialogue with. One was Angola, one was Nigeria, and the other one was South Africa.
So the signing on Monday, I believe, of the Nigerian Binational Commission – so it’s called slightly differently, but essentially the same idea – was to establish a relationship similar. In this case, with South Africa, it’s a strategic dialogue. So what we’re doing is to have basically subcommittees or committees meeting on a regular basis to discuss the issues that you just raised. And this is not meant to limit the issues that can be discussed, but health, education, energy, nonproliferation, law enforcement, trade.
As you all know, the World Cup is being held on the African continent for the first time. South Africa is extremely excited, as are many Americans who love soccer. South Africa – sorry, Americans are the largest number of ticketholders, actually, right now. So we have an important role to play as well, and we have been working with the South Africans on law enforcement-related issues to the extent that they have asked for assistance, and that’s been one area that we are working on. But this is one event. It doesn’t mean that we would want all cooperation, whether it’s on law enforcement or education or healthcare, et cetera, to go away.
PEPFAR – we have the largest program with South Africa under the President’s emergency plan for AIDS and health – PEPFAR in South Africa. So this is an area that oftentimes you’ll have a leader in the mission, in the Embassy, or USAID who’s following certain particular topics, but it’s a way that we can make sure that we’re coordinating well and that everybody is well informed.
And then in the case of South Africa, we also have the annual bilateral forum. And that’s a way that, at the secretary and foreign minister level, the two of them will get together yearly in Pretoria and also set the agenda for the working committees.
QUESTION: So the – and that first one is this year, May, right?
MS. PAGE: Correct.
QUESTION: And then when you say –
MS. PAGE: Well, it’s been ongoing for some time, so it’s not new.
QUESTION: Oh, okay.
MS. PAGE: But underneath now, we will have the strategic dialogue that will have the working committees.
QUESTION: And how long did you say that would meet? I’m sorry, how often would that meet?
MS. PAGE: It meets annually in Pretoria.
QUESTION: No, I mean the one below that, the level below that, the –
MS. PAGE: The strategic dialogue will be decided, how often they will meet, based on the annual bilateral forum, which will be in May.
QUESTION: Okay. Great. Thanks.
QUESTION: Thank you very much.
MS. PAGE: You’re welcome.
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