JOHANNESBURG — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Friday urged South Africa to take a leading role in driving economies across the world's poorest continent and called on the country to do more to press for reform in neighboring Zimbabwe.
Clinton also praised a warming in ties between the United States and South Africa since the recent elections in both countries of new presidents. In particular, she welcomed what she said would be increased cooperation in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
In a speech to South African business leaders in Johannesburg, Clinton said that despite economic setbacks the country is "uniquely positioned" to propel growth throughout Africa if it sticks to sound financial principles, embraces open trade and promotes foreign investment.
"The economic success of Africa hinges ... to a great extent on the economic success of South Africa," she said. "This is both a responsibility and an opportunity."
South Africa, Clinton said, "is uniquely positioned to advance its own economic trajectory and to propel economic growth on the African continent as a whole."
Clinton gave the address after a private meeting with South Africa's revered anti-apartheid leader and former President Nelson Mandela who turned 91 last month.
Earlier, in the capital of Pretoria, Clinton made the case to South African Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane for more pressure on Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe to comply with a power-sharing agreement reached with a political rival.
She said the chaos across its northern border in Zimbabwe was a crisis for South Africa as decades of Mugabe's authoritarian rule have seen a once-prosperous country become an economic shambles.
"South Africa has three million refugees from Zimbabwe and every one of those refugees represents a failure of the Zimbabwean government to care for its own people and a burden that South Africa has to bear," Clinton said.
She and Nkoana-Mashabane said they had agreed to step up efforts to push for the full implementation of the power-sharing agreement between Mugabe and former opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai who became prime minister in March under the pact.
The two had been bitter enemies and Tsvangirai has accused Mugabe of stalling on its implementation.
South African President Jacob Zuma met earlier this week in Johannesburg with Tsvangirai and Nkoana-Mashabane said Tsvangirai had said he wanted implementation to "move a little bit faster."
She compared Zimbabwe's coalition to an "arranged marriage," adding: "Over time you get used to it and feel that it's better than no marriage."
Zuma's predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, was the main broker of the deal that brought Tsvangirai into the government in March, and continues to oversee it on behalf of the southern African bloc. Zuma, like Mbeki, has said the coalition is the only way forward.
South Africa had resisted similar U.S. appeals to take a tough line with Zimbabwe during the Bush administration. But U.S. officials said they hoped the new South African government, in place several months fewer than the Obama administration, would adopt a more cooperative stance.
On Friday, Clinton and Nkoana-Mashabane spoke of a new era in U.S.-South African relations, with the launching of bilateral committees dedicated to improving economic and political cooperation.
Clinton said the Obama administration wants Africa to be a high foreign policy priority, and would rely on "the central leadership role that South Africa plays."
She finished her day with a visit to a US-funded clinic west of Pretoria where she welcomed the Zuma government's new emphasis on HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment.