Biden and South African leader meet to discuss Ukraine, climate issues and trade

Resident Joe Biden speaks during an event in the Rose Garden of the White House on September 15, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

US President Joe Biden and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa are due to meet at the White House on Friday for talks on Russia’s war in Ukraine, climate issues, trade and more.

Ramaphosa is among African leaders who maintained a neutral stance in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with South Africa abstaining in a United Nations vote condemning Russia’s actions and calling for a mediated settlement.

South Africa’s International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor said Ramaphosa would stress the need for dialogue to find an end to the conflict during his meeting with Biden and in separate talks with Vice President Kamala Harris.

RELATED: Biden’s approval rating rises dramatically ahead of midterms, poll finds

Pandor added that the issue will be the focus of South Africa’s attention when it attends the annual meeting of the UN General Assembly next week.

“We would like to see a diplomatic process between the two parties and we believe that the UN must lead, the UN Secretary General in particular,” Pandor said.

The White House meeting follows US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to South Africa last month, during which he said the Biden administration viewed all 54 African nations as “equal partners”. in solving global problems.

But the administration was disappointed that South Africa and much of the continent refused to follow the United States in condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

RELATED: Cut Inflation Act: Biden signs massive climate and health care bill

During Blinken’s visit, Pandor accused the United States and other Western powers of focusing on the Ukrainian conflict at the expense of crises around the world.

“We should be just as concerned about what happens to the Palestinian people as we are about what happens to the Ukrainian people,” she said.

The Biden administration, meanwhile, has sought to point out that Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian Black Sea ports has led to shortages of grain, cooking oil and fertilizer, disproportionately impacting Africans.

South Africa’s neutral stance is largely due to the Soviet Union’s Cold War support for Ramaphosa’s African National Congress in its fight to end apartheid, the South African regime of crackdown against the black majority that ended in 1994. South Africa is seen as a leader of several African countries that will not take sides against Russia.

RELATED: Biden signs $40 billion in US aid to Ukraine on Asia trip

Despite differences over the war in Ukraine, the Biden administration recognizes the importance of strengthening relations in Africa as China has spent decades entrenching itself in the continent’s natural resource markets. Improving relations with South Africa – one of the largest economies on the continent – is at the heart of the American effort.

John Stremlau, an international relations expert at the University of the Witwatersrand, said the talks underscore that the United States sees South Africa as having the “potential to constructively lead Africa” ​​on trade and development. ‘other questions.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the two leaders would also discuss climate change and opportunities to increase trade and investment. Harris and Ramaphosa were scheduled to discuss global health security, space cooperation, climate change, women’s empowerment and other issues as they met over breakfast at the vice president’s residence.

In a brief exchange with reporters before his meeting with Harris, Ramaphosa said he would like to see relations between the two countries “strengthened”.

South Africa’s ambitious efforts to switch from coal to cleaner energy are expected to be discussed at the leaders’ talks. The United States, Britain, France and Germany last year announced a plan to provide $8.5 billion in loans and grants over five years to help South Africa eliminate gradually coal.

Ramaphosa could also raise with Biden the failure of the US and other wealthier countries to deliver on a decades-old promise – first made in 2009 and reaffirmed at the Paris climate talks in 2015. – to spend 100 billion dollars to help developing countries cope with climate change.

Magome reported from Johannesburg.

Teresa H. Sadler