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Bush denies rift with South Africa

Leaders discuss challenges of Zimbabwe

U.S. President George W. Bush and South African President Thabo Mbeki arrive for a press conference in Pretoria on Wednesday.
U.S. President George W. Bush and South African President Thabo Mbeki arrive for a press conference in Pretoria on Wednesday.

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President Bush visits with South African President Thabo Mbeki in Pretoria
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PRETORIA, South Africa (CNN) -- President Bush denied a rift with South Africa over how to handle the political situation in Zimbabwe, whose leadership the United States has condemned for alleged human rights abuses and economic meltdown.

The United States and South Africa "share the same outcome" for Zimbabwe, Bush said Wednesday on the second stop of a five-nation trip to Africa.

Bush spoke at a joint news conference with his South African counterpart, Thabo Mbeki, following a bilateral meeting on a variety of issues.

The United States wants South Africa to exert its influence to remove Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, whom Washington accuses of "violent misrule."

Mbeki previously has warned the United States against giving the impression that it is directing South Africa on what to do. He has said the best way of dealing with neighboring Zimbabwe is to allow its leadership to decide whether it wants to keep Mugabe.

But he said Wednesday: "We are of one mind about the urgent need to address the challenges of Zimbabwe."

The U.S. president also used the news conference to defend the decision to go to war with Iraq despite his hosts being staunch critics of the move. Former President Nelson Mandela is among the anti-war voices in South Africa.

"There is no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein was a threat to the world peace, and there is no doubt in my mind that the United States, along with allies and friends, did the right thing in removing him from power," Bush said.

But he refused to be drawn into the controversy over an assertion, made during his State of the Union address in January, that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from Africa -- a claim the White House has since admitted was erroneous. (Full story)

A Bush administration official said the president never would have included the information in his speech if his advisers had known it was false. However, other U.S. officials said the White House had a report from a former U.S. ambassador a year before the speech that the intelligence was bogus.

Liberian role

During Wednesday's news conference, Bush also denied he would be overextending U.S. troops if he sent them to Liberia, and he promised that the United States would remain involved in the war-torn West African nation. (Full story)

A team of U.S. military experts is assessing the situation in Liberia to determine the extent of U.S. involvement, said Bush, who has not yet agreed to send in a peacekeeping force.

Bush arrived Tuesday night in Pretoria after a stop in the West African nation of Senegal, where he recalled the evils of slavery and pledged to use the U.S. history of overcoming injustices to help improve and empower African nations. (Full story)

Bush's trip also plans to highlight a proposed $15 billion package to help AIDS sufferers in Africa.

Before the visit, Mbeki said, "It is urgent we thank the U.S." for the initiative to combat the spread of AIDS and "start to define the precise nature of the possible uses of that money."

Bush also will discuss trade relations with South Africa during a visit to a Ford Motor plant in Pretoria.

Bush is the fourth U.S. president -- and the first Republican U.S. president -- to visit sub-Saharan Africa. He is accompanied by Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, the two top African-Americans in his administration.

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