12 May 2003

Zimbabwe crisis, Iraq will be focus of talks with GB minister

The crisis in Zimbabwe and the post-Iraq war role of multilateralism are likely to form much of the focus of talks between British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and Foreign Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma this week. Straw arrives in SA tomorrow for a two-day visit along with UK Education Minister Stephen Twigg and Environment Minister Michael Meacher. UK officials are stressing that the talks will not be bogged down by differences between the UK and SA on their approach to Zimbabwe, and will cover a range of other issues, including peace efforts in the Great Lakes region, the New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad) and the recently unveiled road map for peace in the Middle East. SA continues to resist publicly the idea supported by the UK that increased pressure on Harare is required to resolve the crisis. In a signal that President Thabo Mbeki is intent on quashing speculation that pressure is about to be applied to Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, he stressed in his weekly letter on the African National Congress (ANC) website that Zimbabweans should determine their own future, and the country's problems were not the result "of a reckless political leadership".

The meeting will mark the first time in-depth talks have been held between the two ministers, but come at a time of speculation in London that Straw may soon leave the foreign secretary post to become chancellor of the exchequer in a soon to be announced cabinet reshuffle. SA and UK officials say the talks were arranged earlier this year, prior to the Iraq war, at a meeting between Mbeki and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair in the UK. The talks come less than a month ahead of a Group of Eight meeting in Evian, France, at which the leaders of the advanced industrial countries will be looking at what has been achieved under the auspices of Nepad since last year's meeting. Last month, Valerie Amos, the UK's top minister for Africa, warned African countries that the situation in Zimbabwe was making it increasingly difficult to promote Nepad. She said the "lowkey" pressure being brought to bear on Harare by African countries was "bedevilling" developed countries' relations with Africa. In a public address on Iraq, multilateralism and the international rule of law, Straw is expected to seek common ground with SA on an enhanced role for the United Nations. The trip presents a chance to ease strains that arose over Iraq as well as over the foreign office warning last year on the risk to British nationals from global terrorism in SA. Straw will also attend a memorial service for deceased ANC stalwart Walter Sisulu and pay the president a courtesy visit. (Business Day, SA)

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