Statement by Deputy President Thabo Mbeki at the Opening of the Third Session of the SA-USA Bi-National Commission, 17 February 1997

Vice President Al Gore and fellow chairperson,
Honoured members of the Government of the United States of America,
Colleagues, members of the South African Government,
Chairperson of the Committees of the Binational Commission,
Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen

I am delighted and honoured to welcome you Mr Vice President and members of your delegation to this third session of the South Africa - United States Binational Commission.

On behalf of our Government, the President, our people and in my own name, let me take this opportunity to congratulate President Clinton and you Mr Vice President on your recent re-election by the people of the United States. Let me also congratulate your new colleagues, the various secretaries of state. We look forward to a close working relationship and, we sincerely believe that the Commission will benefit from your leadership and guidance.

Mr Vice President, this session of the Binational Commission serves to confirm and support our original idea, a noble idea, the notion that our nations and peoples can grow stronger, wiser, more free and prosperous when our citizens join together in common cause to address common challenges, and to take advantage of shared opportunities.

It is also true that this noble idea would not survive, were it not for the fact that our two peoples share common values and objectives with regard to the construction of a world free of oppression, poverty, disease and squalor and human degradation. We also share a commitment to freedom for the individuals, to respect for human rights, to peaceful resolution of conflicts, to a free and flourishing civil society and to non-racial democracy.

It is all of the above, Mr Vice President, which have and will continue to sustain the work of this Binational Commission for the foreseeable future.

Mr Vice President, we meet again today, in this Third Binational Plenary Commission, to pursue our fundamental objective and again with a mutual desire to build strong friendly and mutually beneficial bilateral relations between ourselves, in a comprehensive, co-ordinated and sustainable manner.

Over the last year and half of its existence, the Binational has offered us an opportunity to pursue, promote and manage our relationship in a structure way and, mot importantly, the Commission creates conducive and friendly conditions for mutually beneficial interaction and shared respect for one another. Our friendship continues to benefit and mature with the work of the Commission.

Mr Vice President, like in any relationship, ours cannot be free of occasional disagreements. It is expected that from time to time there will arise occasions where our interests and goals may not correspond. But because our relationship is based on common ideals and the respect of each other's sovereignty we are able to resolve these differences cordially. The Binational Commission plays an important role in this regard; it provides a conducive forum to manage such differences cordially, with mutual respect.

I must also agree with Ambassador Joseph that the areas of agreement between our two nations are so many that they are able to withstand the few areas of disagreement.

The Commission serves to elevate our relationship unto a higher plane. It allows for speedy communication and provides focus in specific areas. As we sit here today we can already look back at impressive accomplishments over a relatively short period of time and, since our last meeting in Washington CD, substantial progress has been made in the committees to promote trade and US investment in South Africa, build free markets, protect the environment, reduce pollution, conserve water, improve agricultural practices, empower and educate our people, provide sustainable energy to the poor, and increase and improve collaboration in the field of science and technology.

In this regard I am particularly pleased that we will be able to sign the agreement on GLOBE (i.e. Global Learning and Observation to Benefit the Environment) - an international project initiated by you Mr Vice President. GLOBE gives students from more than 3 000 schools in 37 countries, including South Africa, to take environmental measurements such as rainfall, cloud cover, temperature, water acidity and soil moisture and to share their findings via the Internet.

We will also be signing two other agreements; one on Double Taxation and the other on the Fullbright Scholarship Programme. The double taxation agreement will certainly reinforce and spur our already growing investment and trade relations. We would like to see the number of US companies operating in South Africa increase from the current 700 to more than double, with a concomitant increase in sales as well as their asset base. The Fullbright Scholarship Programme will contribute to an important area of our reconstruction and development, the development and enhancement of the skills of our people.

Mr Vice President, we are confident that this Third session will take forward and push the work of the Commission onto a higher plane. For example the Memorandum of Understanding on Lab our Market Information will further strengthen our co-operation in the area of labour market policy formulation.

Let me take this opportunity, Mr Vice President to pay tribute to the secretaries of state who have since left the administration and once again welcome the new incumbents as co-chairs of the various committees of the Binational. From our side the co-chairs of the committees remain unchanged since our last meeting in July, 1996 and, I am confident that my colleagues will continue to work very closely with their new counterparts.

We are particularly pleased that the private sector and civil society in both countries are actively engaged in the activities of the Commission.

Finally, Mr Vice President, we are greatly encouraged and strengthened by the knowledge that the Government of the United States with it many domestic and international responsibilities continues to pay such close attention to the renewal and development of our country and people.

And to you Mr Vice President, we are very pleased that despite your many commitments you set aside other important and pressing issues to attend this meeting. Thank you for your continued commitment to our common vision of a better life for all our peoples.

I hope that your stay in the city of Cape Town will be a memorable one and, that by the time you leave you would have filled-in your accommodation booking form at the Mount Nelson for our Binational Commission meeting in 2004 and thus ensuring a seat at the opening ceremony of the 2004 Olympic Games!

Thank you.

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