Press comments made by South African President Thabo Mbeki and British Prime Minister Tony Blair

Friday 1 June 2007

President Thabo Mbeki

Ladies and gentlemen, let me first of all say a very warm welcome to Prime Minister Tony Blair. I am very glad to host him in South Africa as he is about to leave office.

I would really like to say we have indeed benefited a great deal from your premiership and as you leave office, you leave the bilateral relations between South Africa and the United Kingdom in very good shape in all respects - political, economic, scientific co-operation, continued assistance with regard to our development programmes, education, and indeed I am very glad and appreciative of the role Prime Minister Blair has played in terms of strengthening these bilateral relations. I was very happy to communicate this to him.

Secondly, we have off course been inspired by the very strong and bold positions taken by the Prime Minister and the British government on the issue of the future of the African continent at a time when we ourselves on the Continent were trying as much as we could, in a co-ordinated and united way, to address these African challenges and we did indeed need such a very strong voice of support which has resulted in the agreements reached at the Gleneagles Summit and your intervention, Prime Minister, globally has helped to focus the whole world on the African challenges and therefore given strength to the partnership Africa wanted with the rest of world to help in addressing these challenges.

In this context there are many things that have happened: your support for the peace processes on the Continent, funds that have been contributed to the African Union to address the peace and security challenges in Africa, support for the African Mission in Sudan with regard to Darfur and so on.

It has really helped a great deal. Now, I feel that there is not anyone in the world that would not want to put the African issue on the agenda and for this I say thank you for your positions that have helped to raise the profile.

You have come to Africa again - this will again serve to emphasize that Africa should not be on the margins of what happens in the world but should be the centre of the global agenda.

I must also say that your intervention, starting at Gleneagles, on this matter of climate change has again raised the profile of this issue. I see that globally, there is much better focus on this matter now than there was before. Indeed there must be further discussion on this and decisions taken on the matter. The positions taken by yourself and the resulting discussions at Gleneagles have assisted greatly to move this matter forward.

I should have said, and I am sure everyone knows this, at the forthcoming G-8 Summit in Heiligendamm, Germany, the African matter will again be on the agenda and this will give us an opportunity to assess what progress has been made since Gleneagles and to see what further progress needs to be made with regard to these African challenges.
It would be a good farewell gift to you Prime Minister if, indeed, we do at Heiligendamm take the Gleneagles process further with regard to African development and I would really like to hope that is what will happen. To this we must attach the matter you have supported quite vigorously, which is of importance to the African continent, which is the successful conclusion of the World Trade Organisation Doha round of negotiations.

Again I must say thank you very much for the support on this issue. Indeed the development round can potentially produce important results for the African continent in terms of these development challenges that we are trying to meet.

Lastly Prime Minister, let me say congratulations on what has been achieved in Northern Ireland. You and I have been in touch with this matter over the years. I am very glad to see on the television, Ian Paisley and others, assuming new leadership of the government of Northern Ireland. It has moved forward very decisively an issue that was unresolved for a long time.

I hope this will serve as an example to everyone else that no matter how intractable a situation may seem it is possible to achieve a solution.

Again congratulations on this because as you know, we too have been following up on this matter.

But off course there are some other matters that remain on the agenda. You have raised quite consistently the need for movement on the Israel-Palestine issue. This is a matter that will continue.

I really want to say thank you very much for the contribution you have made in terms of getting all of these issues I have mentioned to move forward and hopefully we will keep in touch.

Thank you and welcome.

Prime Minister Blair

Thank you Mr President and thank you for your kindness and warmth in your welcome to me here.

Next week's G-8 Summit gives us an opportunity to take another big step forward in the process begun at Gleneagles in 2005 on Africa and climate change. The benefit of having such an international summit where not only the G-8 countries but plus five, now including South Africa, and other major players in international politics come together is that it provides a focus and helps concentrate minds on the decisions that need to be taken. In respect of Africa and climate change, I think we are at a very very critical point.

I would like to say in relation to Africa, thank you Mr President for the words you have said about my contribution, but I should also pay tribute to what you have done in particular in conceptualising and shaping the NEPAD process. I remember conversations I had with you very early on in your Presidency and in my Premiership, in which you emphasized to me that in the end the solutions to Africa's problems would come from Africa. It is the duty and obligation of those outside of Africa to give support and assistance but in the end, Africa wants to take responsibility for its own destiny and future and you made a great impression on me in the sense of wanting to get away from a relationship between Africa and the outside world that was about donor-recipient based to one that was about partnerships and equality where there are obligations on the African side as well as on the side of the developed world and where we move together recognising those mutual obligations are interchangeable because we all know that aid and debt relief matter but so do conflict resolution, good governance, the absence of corruption, and so on.

So in a sense, this very formative analysis which you gave me was what led to us trying to develop a different way of approaching these problems. This culminated in the Gleneagles G-8 Summit.

On that, let me make one thing very clear: first of all, some times, and this is in the nature of politics, people either say something has happened or nothing has happened. The truth is that since Gleneagles a lot has happened. There has been a massive amount of money given in debt relief, there have been increases in aid to Africa, but we need to do much more.

There has also been about a million extra people receiving access to HIV and AIDS treatment but again, there are millions more who not have this. There have been increases in the numbers receiving primary education in Africa but there are still tens of millions of African children with no opportunity to receive any primary education. Though it is correct that the numbers of conflicts in Africa have been reduced, those conflicts that are still there are deep and problematic and causing suffering for millions of people.

So, what is important is that next week in Heiligendamm at the German G-8 we recommit to what was agreed at Gleneagles and we step up to the plate both in terms of aid, help, combating the killer diseases, and in issues like conflict resolution and peacekeeping and there are several proposals we were earlier discussing that we hope we can get the G-8 Summit to agree to and obviously, your leadership will be absolutely crucial in this matter.

On the matter of climate change, I think that again, there exists the possibility of taking a major step forward. The important thing we tried to do at Gleneagles was this: I thought for a long time that a low climate change was a big issue, that it was important that people accepted it as a major issue. There is a very basic problem: unless you get a global agreement that encompasses all the main players - the United States of America, China, India, Brazil, and the developing world that as a result of its growth will be emitting more green house gases than before - unless a comprehensive global deal with all the main players in it can be reached, then we will be unlikely to make progress. You could have a hundred or more countries around a table making a deal as with Kyoto but unless everybody is going to understand our mutual responsibilities and step up to the plate and do something, you can have any number of international agreements that will not deal with the problem.

At Gleneagles, we started the G-8 + 5 Dialogue which was the first time we had all the main countries together with a proper structure for dialogue to discuss how we reduce the emission of green house gases. At Heiligendamm next week, we have to take this a step forward: we will have to agree on the elements that would go into a new global deal. In this regard, the speech made by President Bush yesterday is very important because for the first time, the United States of America is saying very clearly that it wants to be part of such a global deal. Secondly, it is saying it will support a target for the reduction of green house gases and thirdly, it is understanding that the only way that this will happen fairly is on a transfer of the changing technologies and scientific development.

I think that next week is potentially a very big week indeed. We would only say to those who question the value of such summits, I think that having the G-8 Summit in Germany next week has been a great help in securing, for example, a US$ 15 billion commitment by the United States of America in tackling HIV and AIDS, the announcement by Germany yesterday that it will increase by €3 billion its aid to Africa over the next four years, and the major step we have seen in the last 48 years on the issue of climate change. We have an opportunity to come together to make sure that the Gleneagles process is given impetus to move forward.

Thank you Mr President for your leadership on these issues.

We have also gone through other regional issues - Zimbabwe, Sudan and had good discussions on these issues.

I would like to conclude where you began which is on the bilateral relationship. Thank you very much Mr President for everything you have done to strengthen that relationship over the past decade. It is worth pointing out that the two-way trade between our two countries today is something like £6 billion a year. There is something like £15 billion worth of British investment in South Africa in 2005 alone. This is a huge commercial and trading relationship. One of the reasons this is so is because over the past few years, under your leadership, South Africa has prospered as an economy and is seen as a great place in which to invest.

I think there are some very strong pointers there for the future.

I am certainly glad to leave our bilateral relations in a very strong state as I leave office.

Thank you.

Questions and answers

Question Prime Minister, (inaudible). With regard to climate change, you said you would support a comprehensive global deal. Do you think the commitments by President Bush are enough or will you be looking for something more?

Answer (Prime Minister Blair) I think in relation to the first point and without going into what would be a PhD thesis in comparative regimes, in the end what is important is to improve the conditions of the people of Zimbabwe. The obligation of Britain is to do everything it can to help. I think people also know that the solution is an African solution for Zimbabwe. This is why I welcomed the work President Mbeki has undertaken on behalf of SADC and we wish it will.

We will do whatever is necessary to support what is needed to improve the lives of the people of Zimbabwe. This is something that will in the end, have to come from Africa itself, with the support of those outside.

In respect of what President Bush said, let's put this into perspective. I want to see this matter go further than what President Bush laid out. But for the first time we have the possibility of a global deal of which the United States of America will be part, with a target for the reduction of green house gases and then off course, you have to go further to discuss how you are going to go further, what are the right market mechanisms, how do you facilitate the transfer of technology to the poorer countries.

From a position where a few years ago there was no possibility of getting such a global deal, I think you can now see a pathway to getting such a deal in the future.

I want to say one other thing because I know there has been some criticism of the United States of America that it wants to host all the meetings, etc. Personally, I think it is a good thing if America is as actively and closely involved as possible. The nature of international diplomacy is such, if there are international meetings where the key players are together, there is accountability and responsibility. So again, this is something I think must be viewed positively.

Off course I want to see this matter go further but I want to also recognise how far we have come.

(President Mbeki) Let me add something on the Zimbabwe matter: you know off course that SADC took some decisions on this matter to which the Prime Minister referred so the position of the region is that there are political problems in Zimbabwe that need to be solved. As a consequence of which a decision was taken that we should help to facilitate discussions between the government and the ruling party and the opposition in Zimbabwe to find a solution to those problems. This process has started and we are indeed engaged in this process.

The second decision was that there are problems affecting the Zimbabwe economy. As a consequence of this, the region then said the Secretariat of the development community in the region should gather and look at the Zimbabwe economy with a view to reporting back to SADC on what might be done to address the economic challenges of Zimbabwe.

You would know off course that President Mugabe was present at that meeting and agreed to all of these suggestions so it is that two-pronged approach which seeks a solution to these two critical matters and indeed I did brief the Prime Minister about this.

This is how we are proceeding and I must add to that the SADC region will report regularly to the AU in terms of our progress in this matter. This is the African response to this particular challenge.

Question President Mbeki, you spoke about the possible achievement of some of the Gleneagles commitments at the G-8 Summit next week. What in your view is the most realistic and likely outcome that can be expected in implementing the Gleneagles committments?
Answer That is very difficult to answer since you are asking me to make a forecast and foretell what will be decided.

I think the position outlined by the Prime Minister is correct. We have identified priority areas on which there must be movement and indeed there has been movement whether in terms of debt relief or the infrastructure mechanism at the African Development Bank, the investment facility, the climate facility, etc. All of these things have happened including the ones mentioned by the Prime Minister.

What has to happen at Heiligendamm, and has already been agreed to at the St Petersberg Summit, is that we will then have to look at how far we have moved in terms of the implementation of the set of agreements reached between the G-8 and the African continent and what more can be done.

I think the best we can do is to express our own conviction that what we would like to see come out of Heiligendamm is movement forward on all of this. I do not get a sense that there is anyone in the G-8 who is opposed to this. The matters just mentioned by the Prime Minister in terms of the increased aid from the United States of America, Germany and debt relief is a signal to that kind of commitment.

So we want further movement with regard to all of these already agreed to issues.

There must be a reconfirmation of this commitment, further movement and a critical look at what has already happened.

This is the best I can say on this matter.

Question Prime Minister Blair, you said next week's G-8 meeting is another chance. I wonder, do you feel a sense of regret or failure that more has not been achieved following Gleneagles? Secondly, tape has emerged of our kidnapped colleague in Iraq - Alan Johnston. What is your view on the matter?
Answer In respect of the latter question, I feel deeply for Alan Johnston and his family. We are doing everything we can do to secure his release. I do urge those who are holding him to release him. He is a journalist doing his work. He is someone who is known for his independence and integrity and I do not think I should comment on the video as such made in the circumstances in which it is. We will continue to do everything we can and hope we can secure his release.

In respect of the first question, I feel that as a result of Gleneagles Africa is now firmly on the global agenda and secondly, the commitments at Gleneagles were not short term ones. There were to be achieved over a period of time.

So, to take one example of HIV and AIDS treatment and access to that treatment that we said at Gleneagles should be universal by 2010: in the past few years with announcements of the American programmes, additional support by our own country, this will mean that millions of lives will be saved.

I think that an immense amount has happened whether in aid, debt relief, primary education, or combating the killer diseases and this was the spirit of Gleneagles processes.

Take for example, the announcement by Germany of €3 billion extra over the next four years. We asked for this to be done and this has been done. America and Germany have made very substantial commitments in the last few days.

There is one other thing I would like to say, one the African side of the agenda, the idea was to use the African Peer Group Review Mechanism, which was spearheaded by President Mbeki, and this is being used now. Although you can point to many challenges in Africa you can also point to what is 12 or 13 democratic elections that have happened in the last few years. This would not have been likely a few years ago.

I am sure that if we take the right decisions next week and push the agenda on again, that we will have made it clear that Africa remains at the top of the international community's agenda and that commitments are delivered upon. Realistically, I think we have come long way from Gleneagles.

Question Prime Minister Blair, with regard to Zimbabwe: South Africa has been consistently criticized for its quiet diplomacy. The British government has openly expressed its views through "loud diplomacy." I would like to know what you feel Britain's policy has achieved and what you would have done differently in your dealings with President Mugabe?
Answer The honest answer to this is, my views on what has happened in Zimbabwe, and those of my country's are quite well known.

However, the only thing that matters is what happens to the people of Zimbabwe. The solution ultimately since no one is proposing any other is the solution that comes from within this region of Africa. This is why we have to put our efforts behind supporting the processes President Mbeki has laid out and do everything we can to ensure that the views of the people of Zimbabwe are heard and that they have a better future. I am attacked by both sides on this issue - for not finding a solution and for intervening.

The most important thing is to help the people - we are doing so through humanitarian aid and other ways. We will continue to do so.

The solution must come from Zimbabwe itself and we will support those like President Mbeki who are attempting to facilitate this.

Issued by Department of Foreign Affairs
Private Bag X152

1 June 2007

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