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Posted at 4:23 PM ET, 12/13/2010

S. African minister says relations warm, despite WikiLeaks

By Mary Beth Sheridan

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited South Africa a year ago in an effort to repair frayed relations. On Monday, the fruit of that trip was evident as a delegation of senior South African officials began a "strategic dialogue" with their counterparts in Washington, on issues ranging from trade to health.

"We are very excited about this high-level interaction" with the Obama administration, Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said in an interview.

"For almost 10 years, there was no mechanism to engage directly and to also check in on progress made, or not," she said.

Nkoana-Mashabane has clearly bonded with Clinton. "She comes out as a mother, as a lady next door. That's the kind of person I want to do business with," the South African minister said. "I find myself not struggling to engage with her."

That will undoubtedly be good news for Clinton, who has been put in charge of apologizing to officials around the globe for the comments in State Department cables released by WikiLeaks.

In South Africa, a number of the revelations have made headlines: a 2009 cable said President Jacob Zuma's government allowed "excessive spending of public money on personal luxuries"; a cable from 2001 called Zuma's predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, "thin-skinned."

One cable quoted Nkoana-Mashabane as calling Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe a "crazy old man," a remark that could complicate South Africa's efforts to press for democratic reforms in its neighbor.

The South African press has reported that Nkoana-Mashabane would bring up the leaked cables with Clinton. But, publicly at least, the South African foreign minister was putting a good face on things.

"It's just about, how do your run your government with leaks? Do you get deviated by that, or focus on that which is key?" she said. "I refuse to be waylaid. I just refuse."

By Mary Beth Sheridan  | December 13, 2010; 4:23 PM ET
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