South African Cyril Ramaphosa visits Washington to speak with Joe Biden about the climate crisis, trade and the war in Ukraine, among other things.
US President Joe Biden hailed South Africa as a “vital voice” as he met with the country’s President Cyril Ramaphosa at the White House for talks on efforts to tackle the climate crisis and end the war in Ukraine went.
“Our partnership is essential to address many of the world’s most pressing challenges … and South Africa is an important voice on the global stage,” Biden told Ramaphosa in the Oval Office before talks began Friday afternoon.
“We have a lot to talk about. There’s a lot happening around the world,” Biden said.
A senior Biden administration official told reporters earlier in the day that the United States president wanted to speak to Ramaphosa about the war in Ukraine and hear the “South African leader’s thoughts on best course of action.”
Biden, who has led an international coalition in imposing a series of economic sanctions on Russian President Vladimir Putin over the war, wants South Africa’s help in that effort.
But the South African government has defied calls to directly blame Russia for the invasion.
The country, which has close historical ties to Moscow due to the Soviet Union’s support for the anti-apartheid struggle, abstained in a United Nations vote condemning the invasion of Ukraine.
In late May, Ramaphosa said “uninvolved countries” were paying the price for Western sanctions against Russia. “Even those countries that are either bystanders or not part of the conflict will also suffer from the sanctions imposed on Russia,” he said at the time.
Ahead of Friday’s White House meeting, South Africa’s Minister for International Relations Naledi Pandor said Ramaphosa will stress the need for dialogue to find an end to the war.
Pandor added that the issue will be the focus of attention for South Africa when it attends the United Nations General Assembly annual session next week.
“We want a diplomatic process to be initiated between the two parties and we believe the UN needs to take the lead, particularly the UN Secretary-General,” Pandor said.
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby previously dismissed suggestions that the US was trying to pressure South Africa to distance itself from Russia.
“The United States does not let anyone choose between us and anyone else – neither in Ukraine nor in the Indo-Pacific region. We respect sovereignty,” Kirby told reporters during a news conference.
Ramaphosa’s visit to Washington comes just weeks after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken made his own trip to South Africa and promised the government will do more to listen to Africa.
Beginning his journey over breakfast with Vice President Kamala Harris, Ramaphosa thanked the US for its “significant support” in the COVID-19 pandemic and said Washington must also play a “key role” on security issues across Africa.
“The visit is really about strengthening ties between South Africa and the United States,” said the South African President.
That was confirmed by Harris, who said the talks were “a sign of the strong partnership” between the two nations.
The leaders discussed strategies to respond to the climate crisis and the efforts each country has made for global health, the US vice president said in a statement. “They have also agreed to work closely together on peace and security issues affecting the continent.”
Ahead of his talks with Biden, Ramaphosa said he was eager to discuss “a whole range of issues” with his US counterpart, including trade.