WASHINGTON — Even in death,
The memorial drew dozens of dignitaries and heads of state, including three former U.S. presidents, a bipartisan congressional delegation, and leaders from around the world. Each brought a tangle of tricky relationships and subtext that had to be, at least publicly, set aside to honor a man who championed the art of reconciliation.
Among those world leaders was Cuban President
It was the first such contact between a U.S. and Cuban president in 13 years, a
Like officials did then, the Obama administration did not assign extra meaning to the face-to-face encounter Tuesday, although it comes as Obama is planning to revisit U.S. policies toward Cuba.
The president was solely focused on honoring Mandela, said a White House official, who asked not to be named discussing the president's private interactions.
"We appreciate that people from all over the world are participating in this ceremony," the official said. "As the president said, we urge leaders to honor Mandela's struggle for freedom by upholding the basic human rights of their people."
More recent diplomatic tension also swirled around Obama at the high-powered gathering. After delivering his remarks, Obama was followed at the podium by Brazilian President
The history-making memorial service was a hot ticket for U.S. lawmakers and a chance for the White House to do a little congressional outreach. The delegation of lawmakers that traveled to South Africa included several members of the Congressional Black Caucus, as well as Illinois Republican Rep.
The journey also promised another opportunity for political reconciliation. Obama has a history of friction — both ancient (by Washington standards) and fresh — with others on the African sojourn. Obama flew to South Africa with his predecessor and onetime political foil President
Also on the long, overnight flight was former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Ex-presidents Clinton and Carter planned to travel separately. Former President
The White House gave only a little insight into the conversations among the travelers. Spokesman
"It's a unique experience, obviously," said National Security Council spokesman Ben Rhodes.