President George Bush will make history next week when he becomes the first head of state not to ask for a meeting with Nelson Mandela while on a visit to South Africa.
Officials say there is no precedent, except during large summits such as the UN earth summit in Johannesburg last year when heads of state visited in huge numbers. But even then, world leaders lined up to visit Mr Mandela at his upmarket residence in Johannesburg, and others met him at official events.
Former South African President Nelson Mandela, left, and French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin are seen during a photo opportunity in Johannesburg, Friday June 27, 2003. Mandela on Friday criticized U.S President Bush for the U.S.-led war in Iraq and praised French President Jacques Chirac for refusing to participate. (AP Photo/Denis Farrell)
But when Mr Bush lands in South Africa next week on his first visit to Africa, the world's most powerful leader will not meet the world's most famous statesman. Mr Bush had not asked for a meeting with Mr Mandela, the former president's spokeswoman said.
The two met at the White House soon after the 11 September suicide attacks, and Mr Mandela expressed support for Mr Bush in hunting down those responsible in Afghanistan. But they fell out when Mr Bush turned on Iraq, and Mr Mandela dismissed the US leader as a President who "cannot think properly" for bypassing the United Nations.
Mr Mandela also made a scathing attack on Tony Blair, labeling him the "Foreign Affairs Minister of the United States". He has reportedly made peace with Mr Blair after apologizing in a phone discussion in which he admitted that his vitriol might have been a bit over the top. But Mr Mandela did not retract his firm opposition to the Iraq war.
He repeated his attack on Mr Bush when he met the French Foreign Minister, Dominique de Villepin, in Johannesburg on Friday, and heaped praise on the French President, Jacques Chirac, who opposed the war.
Asked whether he would voice his concerns to Mr Bush during his visit, Mr Mandela replied: "Do not assume that he will meet with me," in what was taken as a snub addressed to the US President. Apparently, Mr Bush will not easily forgive a man widely regarded as the moral conscience of the world.
A US embassy spokesman said that Mr Bush's schedule had not been finalized, but he held out little prospects of a Bush-Mandela meeting. The US President, who will meet President Thabo Mbeki, visits Africa from 7 to 12 July for talks, including how to help the continent out of poverty so it does not become a breeding ground for terrorists. Other items on the agenda will cover Zimbabwe, US help for fighting Aids, removal of US farm subsidies that helped to destroy African agriculture, and support for the economic renewal program, the New Partnership for African Development.
© 2003 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd