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South Africa scolds US ambassador over Russia’s arms claim

South Africa rebuked the US ambassador in Pretoria on Friday for his suggestion that the government of President Cyril Ramaphosa had supplied Russia with weapons over the winter, deepening tensions between Washington and a major African partner over the war in Ukraine.

The country’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) said it had summoned Reuben E. Brigety II, who has served as ambassador to Pretoria since 2022, to issue a demarche, or verbal message, expressing the government’s “total discontent with his conduct and statements” made the day before.

A DIRCO spokesperson tweeted a photo showing the country’s top diplomat, Naledi Pandor, sitting with Brigety, a stern expression on her face. The apparent rebuke followed reports in local media that Brigety, in comments to reporters this week, said South Africa had placed weapons and ammunition on a Russian ship which docked at a naval base in December.

“We are confident that weapons were loaded onto that vessel and I would bet my life on the accuracy of that claim,” Brigety said, according to event reports. “Given that, the deviation from South Africa’s non-alignment policy by the actions of December 6-8 are inexplicable,” he was reported to have said. He provided no evidence to support the claim.

The DIRCO statement said Brigety had “admitted he crossed the line and apologized unreservedly to the government and people of South Africa.” Ramaphosa’s government has said it is investigating what happened when the Russian ship, the Lady R, docked near Cape Town in early December.

In a message In a Twitter post posted late Friday, Brigety said he was grateful for the opportunity to speak with Pandor and “correct any misimpressions left by my public comments.”

Brigety’s statement did not deny any specific part of his allegation and left it unanswered whether the alleged information he referenced on Thursday indicated that the alleged arms transfer to Russia was done with the knowledge or involvement of the South African government.

“In our conversation, I reaffirmed the strong partnership between our two countries and the important agenda that our presidents have given us,” he added.

The flap highlights ongoing tensions between the United States and some of its most influential partners in the developing world, which have resisted Washington’s attempt to enlist them in its campaign to isolate President Vladimir Putin over his invasion of Ukraine.

While President Biden has touted his building a largely European coalition that has provided arms to Ukraine and imposed sanctions on Russia, developing countries including Brazil, India and South Africa have cited economic ties to Moscow or determination to stay out of distant conflicts. for their positions.

The State Department did not provide an immediate response to the request, although Secretary of State Antony Blinken also spoke with Pandor on Friday. A spokesman for the department said Thursday that the Biden administration was concerned about the boat incident. The administration has already imposed sanctions on Iran for allegedly supply Russia with weapons for Ukraine and warned China not to do the same.

South Africa, which has stressed the conflict must be resolved peacefully but refused to condemn Russia’s invasion, has long-standing ties to Moscow. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union supported the current African National Congress (ANC) as it fought against the apartheid government.

Brigety’s rebuke came the same day that Rampahosa spoke by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to a Kremlin reading of the call.

The two countries stressed the importance of “continuing close coordination” between Russia and South Africa as they prepare for a series of important meetings this year, according to the reading.

ANC Secretary General Fikile Mbalula said on Friday that while South Africa’s ANC government had positive ties to the United States, the ANC as a party differed from Washington and rejected his position on Russia.

“We are very clear about the situation between Ukraine and Russia. We are not partisan and no one is going to (change our position on this matter),” she said, according to South African media.

Wroughton reported from Cape Town. Robyn Dixon contributed to this report from Riga, Latvia.

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