Nelson Mandela turned aside a public appeal by President Bush to renounce armed struggle to end white rule in South Africa yesterday and called on the administration to maintain sanctions against the South African government and provide financial support for his African National Congress.
Bush, who described Mandela as "a man who embodies the hopes of millions," quoted Martin Luther King Jr. as he appealed to "all elements in South African society to renounce the use of violence and armed struggle, to break free from the cycle of repression and violent reaction that breeds nothing but more fear and suffering."
Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Bush atop a small platform on the sunlit South Lawn of the White House, Mandela replied firmly that the president had made his remarks about renouncing violence "due to the fact he has not as yet got a proper briefing from us."
At a news conference following his three hours of meetings with Bush, Mandela noted that since 1986 the ANC has "scaled down" its armed operations to encourage negotiations and that it will "consider the cessation of hostilities" once the South African government has "removed all the obstacles to negotiations." He added that the issue of renouncing violence "is a matter which you should leave entirely in our own hands."
Mandela said that after he explained this to Bush, the president "appeared to understand our position and we feel that we have narrowed the gap existing between our positions at the beginning of the meeting."
However, following the Bush-Mandela meeting, the White House reiterated its call for a renunciation of violence in the South Africa conflict.
After tumultuous welcomes by huge, near-reverential crowds in New York and Boston, Mandela and his entourage plunged yesterday into the political business of persuading the Bush administration and Congress to maintain support for the ANC efforts as it prepares for negotiations with the South African government of President F.W. de Klerk.
That effort yesterday included the sessions with Bush, a meeting with Secretary of State James A. Baker III, a meeting with leaders of the AFL-CIO and a private dinner with members of Congress.
While Mandela and White House officials stressed the discussions yesterday yielded more agreement than disagreement, administration officials acknowledged the leaders had "agreed to disagree" on a range of issues besides the use of violence, including the duration of U.S. economic sanctions against South Africa and how the ANC would get a share of a new $10 million fund to encourage non-racial democracy in Africa.
Despite the business-like tone of the day, even inside the gates of the White House -- where visits by foreign dignitaries are routine -- some flavor of Mandela's hero status was evident. As he and Bush spoke, uniformed White House workers, many of them black, appeared in windows of the executive mansion with their cameras or alongside a rope line set up on the grounds.
About 200 government employees were the only spectators allowed at the welcoming ceremony, and unlike the formal atmosphere at most such events, the crowd cheered and implored Mandela and his wife, Winnie, to come by. Both approached the crowd briefly and it took a persuasive, near-embrace of Winnie Mandela by First Lady Barbara Bush to move the entourage off the lawn and into the Oval Office for the meetings.
In welcoming Mandela to the White House, Bush invoked the memory of King to call for an end to the armed struggle in South Africa, quoting the slain civil rights leader as saying, "Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred."
With Mandela looking on impassively, Bush praised de Klerk for steps he has taken and condemned apartheid as "repugnant to the ideals that we in America hold dear." He said when conditions in U.S. law have been met by the de Klerk government, the administration "will consider, in consultation with Congress, whether a change in course will promote further progress."
In his response, Mandela blended praise for Bush with suggestions that the president was not fully informed on the history and reality of the ANC struggle to end the rule by South Africa's five million whites over its 28 million blacks.
"If today we are confident that the dreams which have inspired us all these years are about to be realized, it is, in very large measure, because of the support we have got from the masses of people of the United States of America, and in particular from the government and from the president," Mandela said.
That support, he said, should be predicated on an understanding by Bush of the "armed struggle." Both at the White House and in his news conference later, Mandela repeated that the South African government, by banning political organizations, imprisoning black political leaders, and outlawing free political activity in effect determined the ANC's approach to the use of violence.
However, White House officials and Mandela described as near the removal of the last obstacles to talks. Mandela said he is scheduled to meet with government officials on his return to South Africa and expects issues such as release of political prisoners will be resolved.
Herman Cohen, an assistant secretary of state, said the Mandela statements pledging a cessation of hostilities were welcome, but not good enough. "We're not supremely happy," Cohen said, "just partially happy."
On sanctions, Cohen said Mandela asked that sanctions remain in place even after negotiations begin. Bush, Cohen said, retains his position that once the Pretoria government has met the conditions in the sanctions law, discussions on lifting or easing those sanctions will begin with Congress. The sanctions were enacted over the veto of then-President Ronald Reagan, and Bush has hinted that de Klerk should be rewarded with their removal once negotiations begin.
On U.S. aid to the ANC, Mandela pressed both Bush and Baker. Congress last month approved up to $10 million in aid to groups promoting democratic institutions in South Africa.
The National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a nonpartisan group that helped facilitate elections recently in Nicaragua and elsewhere, is considered the prime candidate for getting the funds and channeling them to other groups in the form of small grants. NED could give grants to organizations helping in the formation of democracy in South Africa, but the legislation requires that such groups agree to a suspension of violence while negotiations are occurring.
Cohen said Mandela's agreement to a "cessation of hostilities" once obstacles to talks are cleared up may well meet the intent of the law. "I'm predicting that they will issue that statement," he said, and become eligible for some of the NED funds. Other State Department officials were not sure Congress would go along with funds going indirectly to what one called "a movement . . . not a political party, and a movement that still embraces Marxism."
Mandela's public support for leaders, some of them Marxist, drew some criticism in Congress and at the White House yesterday. In a session with reporters on Sunday, Mandela criticized U.S. support for the non-communist rebels trying to oust the Marxist government in Angola. Cohen said the issue came up at the White House and that the president and Mandela "agreed to disagree."
Mandela"s expressions of support for Cuba's Fidel Castro, Libya's Moammar Gadhafi and the Palestine Liberation Organization were also subjects on which Bush and Mandela agree to disagree, officials said. But officials stressed those issues played virtually no role in the official discussions.
In Congress, Rep. Howard Wolpe (D-Mich.), a strong supporter of the ANC, said of Mandela's statements, "I wish he had not said those things . . . they were not helpful."
Rep. Lawrence J. Smith (D-Fla.), another supporter of sanctions, complained of Mandela: "He comes here and espouses support, not just casual, offhand support, but significant support, for people whose methods and backgrounds are terrorists, outlaws, or communist dictators."
Staff writers Gwen Ifill and Nora Boustany contributed to this report.