What’s behind the State Department’s South Africa controversy?

heyone of A’s first jobs diplomatic Don’t make the situation worse. Sometimes picking fights is justified, and sometimes it can lead to unnecessary drama.

The latter is what is happening with American diplomats South Africa, Last week, US ambassador Ruben Brigetti alleged that the South African government supplied weapons to a US-sanctioned Russian cargo ship docked at the Simon’s Town naval base last December. Career American diplomat, who was once America’s top representative to the African Union, Said South African media said that the United States was “convinced that weapons were loaded on that ship, and I would bet my life for the accuracy of that claim.” The statement, if true, would be a bombshell: Africa’s most developed country, considered a regional heavyweight, was deliberately arming Russia, an aggressive country, despite its claims of neutrality on Russia. war in ukraine,

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The South Africans, of course, didn’t take too kindly to Brigitte’s comments. The ambassador was summoned to the South African Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where he was given diplomatic dressing. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has said a retired judge is investigating the claims, but his subordinates are still concerned about the controversy. South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation said the ambassador’s remarks were “strange and at odds with the mutually beneficial and cordial relationship that exists between the United States and South Africa.”

It’s not that Brigitte was going off the reservation. The story of a Russian ship docking off the South African coast was exposure In wall street journal It was about a month after this happened, and US officials at the time registered their concerns that something nefarious might be afoot. Still, something is a bit odd in this episode. Brigitte seemed almost apologetic after conducting their meeting at South Africa’s foreign ministry, Tweet that he was “grateful for the opportunity” to correct “any misconceptions” from his remarks a few days earlier. The South Africans said they issued an apology – an apology for what, exactly, we don’t know. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also spoke to South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor, possibly to assist in the clean-up effort. Again, what he was cleaning was a mystery.

There is, however, a suspicion that the acts of apology and remorse have something to do with the fact that America’s man in Pretoria aired his dirty laundry in such a public fashion. It’s one thing to express concern at a State Department briefing — it’s entirely another for an ambassador to speak to local reporters and accuse his host of a secret plan to weaponize Russia’s war effort. Putting those allegations in the public domain is an explosive move, especially if your public case doesn’t include any evidence other than “trust us.”

Making matters worse, US-South Africa relations are already a little testy these days. The US does not appreciate the fact that South Africa has rejected UN resolutions condemning Russia’s aggression, allowing Russian and Chinese warships to use its waters for military exercises in February, and an immediate conflict in Ukraine. Continues to argue for an armistice. At the State Department, there is perhaps frustration that Pretoria is not outsourcing its Ukraine and Russia policy to Washington.

But it is precisely when bilateral relations are strained that leaders on both sides need to be careful of their words. The slightest rollback from the Biden administration suggests they reached this conclusion too late.

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Daniel DePetris (@DanDePetris) is a contributor to washington examiner Beltway Confidential Blog. they have their own thoughts,


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