U.S., South Africa plan to improve trade, fight crime
Web posted at: 9:24 p.m. EST (0224 GMT)
CAPE TOWN, South Africa (CNN) -- Vice President Al Gore and the man widely expected to succeed President Nelson Mandela in South Africa agreed Thursday to hold regular trade talks and cooperate in the fight against international crime.
"I reaffirm that the people of the United States of America are committed to the strongest possible partnership with the citizens of South Africa," Gore said after the latest meeting of the Binational Commission.
South African deputy president Thabo Mbeki, at the opening of Thursday's session, said he appreciated "this relationship of support and engagement for creating a better life for the people of this country."
Mbeki and Gore, who jointly chair the commission, signed an agreement to create a council that meets regularly to discuss trade and investment. A primary aim would be a forum to resolve potential trade disputes quickly.
South Africa is the United States' most important trading partner in Africa but ranks just 33rd overall. The United States exported $3 billion worth of goods to South Africa in 1997 and imported South African goods worth $2.5 billion. Since 1994 the United States has invested more than $10 billion in the country.
The two countries also agreed to set up a committee on justice and crime chaired by South African Safety and Security Minister Sidney Mufamadi and U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno.
"This is a recognition that South Africa is not just the gateway to Africa but the gateway to Europe and North America for drugs from Latin America and Asia," South African deputy foreign minister Aziz Pahad said earlier.
South African police and prosecutors will be trained in the United States, which will offer resources from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other agencies to fight illegal activity including cybercrime and international terrorism.
The Western Cape has been hit recently by a wave of bombings on tourist targets and police stations that intelligence sources say are the work of a small group of Muslim fanatics. There have been no convictions yet.
Gore, Mbeki discuss AIDS, world markets, unemployment
Cabinet-level delegations from both countries, meeting in Kirstenbosch national botanical gardens on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain, also turned their attention to issues from AIDS to world money markets.
The United States agreed to give South Africa $10 million to fight the AIDS epidemic. The officials also discussed protecting local jobs without resorting to protectionism or restricting money flows.
Unemployment in South Africa stands around 30 percent, having risen by 500,000 people since the country's first democratically elected government took power in 1994.
There were discussions on conflicts from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Angola, the Horn of Africa and Sierra Leone.
Both sides agreed there was no military solution and that diplomatic efforts to end the wars must continue.
The Binational Commission was created in 1994 as a joint initiative between South African President Nelson Mandela and President Clinton. It held its first meeting the following year.
Gore's two-day South Africa visit began Wednesday. The U.S. delegation included Reno, Commerce Secretary William Daley, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman and Energy Secretary Bill Richardson.
Mbeki is considered Mandela's likely successor after elections tentatively set for mid-May, while Gore himself is a front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination for the U.S. election in 2000.
"I wish my chances were as good as Thabo's," Gore said in a CNN interview.
There has been concern in South Africa and other countries about the 11-month delay by the U.S. Congress in passing the Africa trade bill, which would encourage more trade. Gore predicted the measure would have better luck on Capitol Hill this month.
Johannesburg Bureau Chief Mike Hanna and Reuters contributed to this report.
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