US government officials travelling with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denied on Friday that US military bases in Africa was on the agenda for talks during her visit to South Africa.
The Mail & Guardian reported that Clinton planned to win South African support for the controversial US Africa Command (Africom). In briefings with the ambassador-designate Donald Gips in Washington, it appeared that Africom would be a priority for US President Barack Obama’s administration and Clinton’s visit should pave the way for support from South Africa.
“With Zuma, the thinking is they will get Africom. The state department says this visit is about trade, but peacekeeping is very important,” a source at the briefing told the M&G.
Gips is accompanying Clinton on her visit and is expected to take up residence in South Africa in September.
Clinton aide Philip Cowley categorically denied on Friday that the issue was on the agenda for talks.
Assistant secretary for Africa, Johnnie Carson, expressed surprise at the M&G report.
Sources said the US government hoped to find Zuma’s government more receptive to Africom. Under former president Thabo Mbeki, South Africa opposed the plan.
Recent meetings between US defence officials and Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu are said to have given the US hope that Africom will be better received.
“We met with South Africans and they were happy to talk to us,” a US official said.
Clinton is scheduled to meet Zuma on Saturday.