De Klerk Delays Visit to U.S.; Blames Timing
President Frederik W. de Klerk said today he has postponed his visit to the United States next month because of a controversy over the timing of his meeting with President Bush.
Neither the White House nor the South African government had announced a date for the meeting, but it reportedly had been set for June 18.
The African National Congress and others complained a meeting on that date with De Klerk would be a snub to ANC leader Nelson R. Mandela, who is due to arrive in the United States on June 20.
De Klerk and Mandela have said they don’t care which one meets with Bush first. But many ANC representatives and some black American leaders have said Bush should not meet with De Klerk at all until South Africa’s apartheid system is dismantled. It has been more than 30 years since a South African head of government has visited the United States.
Mandela has criticized De Klerk’s handling of violence in the province of Natal, saying the government has not done enough to stem the violence.
De Klerk’s move today appeared aimed at staving off friction on another front.
“Due to a controversy that has arisen in the United States as regards the possible timing of my visit in June, and also because certain important matters would require my personal attention during the next few weeks, I have decided to postpone my visit to the United States,” he said in a statement.
“President Bush made it clear that I would be welcome at any time. He stands by his invitation and I will follow it up later, at a time when it can make a positive contribution to our mutual relations,” De Klerk added.
The South African president returned Saturday from an 18-day visit to nine European nations, where he met with leaders and explained his plans to end apartheid and give the voteless black majority a voice in running the government.