Support for Castro, Kadafi Disturbs U.S. : Third World: Mandela’s backing of those leaders and Arafat could hurt his talks with President Bush. Some fear a wider rift between blacks and Jews.


Nelson Mandela’s provocative statement of support for Moammar Kadafi, Fidel Castro and Yasser Arafat has surprised and disturbed the Bush Administration, complicating a presidential meeting that is the main event of Mandela’s triumphant U.S. tour.

Although Mandela’s sentiments had long been known, his strong expression of them in a television interview called attention to tensions between blacks and Jews in the domestic political scene. As a result, White House aides suggested, Bush may have to handle Monday’s visit with Mandela more gingerly.

During his 2 1/2-hour working visit with the President, Mandela will be given the sort of White House welcome that a visiting head of government would receive--a private session in the Oval Office, an expanded meeting with senior advisers in the Cabinet Room and lunch with Bush.


But what had originally appeared to be a risk-free opportunity for Bush to bask in the sunshine of Mandela’s tumultuous American reception suddenly has been clouded by the public airing of serious differences in a sensitive policy area.

“The President has strong feelings on the issue,” a White House official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. But he and others said that the talks on Monday would focus heavily on the future of South Africa and efforts to achieve a peaceful reconciliation of its racially divided society, rather than on Mandela’s assessment of Libyan leader Kadafi, Cuban President Castro and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Arafat.

Nevertheless, Administration officials clearly were troubled by Mandela’s ringing endorsement of the three Third World leaders.

“We find it disturbing he’s not taking into consideration the human rights records (in Libya and Cuba), which we think are abysmal,” said Herman J. Cohen, assistant secretary of state for African affairs.

“We feel that one cannot fail to take into account the human rights records in their own countries,” Cohen said. “Just to feel that these are good people because they are helping your cause we think is an insufficient response to human rights violations.”

At the same time, Administration officials saw a potentially positive twist to the controversy: Mandela’s comments made it clear that his agenda and that of the United States are not the same, making it easier for Bush to consider easing economic sanctions against South Africa when he thinks the time is right.

Cohen said that, as soon as South Africa meets the conditions spelled out in U.S. law for lifting the sanctions, Bush will seek congressional support for such a move. The still-unmet conditions require setting free remaining political prisoners and ending the nationwide state of emergency.

Although Cohen indicated a readiness to move quickly on lifting sanctions, a White House official indicated that Cohen’s view reflected the inclination at the State Department and not necessarily the thinking in the White House.

Speaking in an interview on ABC’s “Nightline” Thursday, Mandela said he supported Kadafi, Arafat and Castro because they “support our struggle to the hilt.”

Of the PLO and its chairman, Mandela said: “We identify with the PLO because, just like ourselves, they are fighting for the right of self-determination . . . . To think that, because Arafat is conducting a struggle against Israel that we must therefore condemn him, we can’t do it. It is just not possible.”

With such comments, Mandela “has aligned himself with some of the real villains of the world,” a former senior White House aide said.

“You judge a man by his friends,” the former official said. “If Bush embraces him too closely or too warmly, it increases the alarm that significant leaders of the Jewish community are beginning to have” about the President and his policy toward Israel.

In Los Angeles, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said in a telephone interview that Mandela’s comments “will probably lead to a further erosion in relations between American blacks and American Jews.”

He said that, among Jews, the vision of dismantling apartheid, the policy of official separation of the races in South Africa, “is sacrosanct.”

But, he said, Mandela should understand that, “in terms of world Jewry, the safety and security of the state of Israel evokes exactly the same commitment.”