by Anthony Stoppard
(IPS) JOHANNESBURG --
South African president, Nelson Mandela appeared to lose patience with diplomacy and launched a scathing personal attack on U.S. president, George W. Bush for his apparent determination to take military action against Iraq, if the middle-eastern country does not prove it has no weapons of mass destruction to the satisfaction of the United States.
Mandela insists that the United States must act through the United Nations if it wants to move against Iraq. "What I am condemning is that one power, with a president who has no foresight, who cannot think properly, is now wanting to plunge the world into a holocaust," said Mandela, in an address to an International Women's Forum (IWF) conference in Johannesburg, on Jan 30.
Mandela called on Americans to get rid of Bush through the ballot box, and if they were not able to do so before a possible attack on Iraq, then they should launch mass actions to protest and demonstrate against the war.
White House spokesperson, Ari Fleischer, has reportedly responded to Mandela's remarks by saying that Bush "understands that there are going to be people who are more comfortable doing nothing about a growing menace that could turn into a holocaust".
Although Mandela regularly insists that he is a retired man with no power and little influence, the remarks of the elder statesman are sure to strengthen the will of the international peace movement. And, although he is known to be fiercely independent in his thinking, Mandela remains a loyal member of South Africa's ruling African National Congress (ANC) and seldom steps out of line of government policy.
South Africa, currently lobbying the majority of countries in the UN to oppose a possible U.S.-led attack on Iraq, is determined to strengthen the UN, so that it can become a forum in which developing countries can deal with the United States -- the world's only remaining super-power -- and other developed nations, on equal terms.
South Africa is also very concerned that a war in Iraq would destabilise the global economy at a time when it -- and many other developing countries -- are suffering from slowing international trade and weak financial markets.
Mandela condemned world leaders for not speaking out loudly enough against the possible war and called on those countries with a veto in the UN Security Council, to oppose the U.S.'s push toward conflict. However, he also warned Iraq to co-operate fully with the UN and said he would support any UN sanction against the country, if it was found to have weapons of mass destruction.
Mandela also launched a stunning attack on British Prime Minister, Tony Blair -- a strong supporter of the U.S. in its campaign against Iraq. "He is the foreign minister of the United States. He is not longer the Prime Minister of Britain".
Mandela's attack on Blair comes just before South African President, Thabo Mbeki, meets with the British Prime Minister, in the United Kingdom, on Feb 1.
As chair of the 115-strong Non-aligned Movement (NAM), Mbeki is expected to underline to Blair that many countries want the Iraqi crises settled peacefully, and through a decision backed by the majority of the members of the United Nations.
In turn, Blair is expected to try and convince Mbeki of the strength of the case of the U.S. and Britain, against Iraq.
South Africa has made it clear that it does not believe the UN weapons inspectors have come up with any evidence that justifies an attack on Iraq.
Mbeki and Blair are also scheduled to discuss the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) -- a program for the economic and social development of the continent -- and British efforts to isolate the government of Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe. Britain has led international opposition to Mugabe's government, which is alleged to have rigged Zimbabwe's last general election, held in 2000.
In his speech at the IWF, Mandela also attacked Blair for trying to isolate Mugabe, rather than taking the lead of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which is also trying to resolve the political and economic crises in Zimbabwe. He came out in support of French efforts to lift sanctions against Mugabe, so that the Zimbabwean leader could attend a conference on human rights in Paris. The move is opposed by Britain. The European Union (EU) is divided over the issue, and is still trying to reach an agreement on the matter before the sanctions expire in the next few days.
South African foreign affairs experts do not believe that Mandela's remarks will seriously damage relations between the African country and the United States and Britain. They point out that while Mandela may have bluntly reflected South Africa's positions, he is still a private citizen who is free to do and say what he wants. His comments are unlikely to result in a formal diplomatic rumpus between the three countries.
January 31, 2003 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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