US Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Walter Kansteiner on Wednesday said he was not surprised at the hostile reception Secretary of State Colin Powell got from World Summit on Sustainable Development delegates.
"I don't think it was a total surprise in the sense that there have been a few extreme activists that have not fully listened to the US position on a number of these issues, so it was not totally surprising."
A reference to Zimbabwe and its "lack of respect for human rights and the rule of law" had earlier triggered pandemonium.
Delegates jeered, booed, slow-clapped and shouted down the retired general, forcing him to stop speaking and causing conference president Nkosasana Dlamini-Zuma to repeatedly bang her gavel and call for order.
Powell was speaking during the WSSD's penultimate plenary session, ahead of events being wrapped up at the Sandton Convention Centre later in the day with the adoption of a draft Plan of Implementation and a draft Political Declaration.
Shortly before the disruption, Powell -- referring to poverty in developing countries -- said the facts "scream out to us".
The eruption from his audience was apparently triggered by a reference to crisis-stricken Zimbabwe. Powell said entire generations were at risk from AIDS and other infectious diseases.
"Drought, wasteful land-use and economic mismanagement threaten to create famine.
"In one country in this region, Zimbabwe, the lack of respect for human rights and the rule of law has exacerbated these factors to push millions forward towards the brink of starvation," he said.
At this point he was forced to stop talking for about half a minute.
He resumed, saying, "Thank you very much, I've now heard you", before being forced to halt his speech again.
Scarcely a minute later, a reference to the famine in Africa and bio-tech maize, and "how it is being eaten safely around the world", sparked another short outburst from delegates.
The noise then subsided to a low background rumble, which swelled up once more when Powell turned his attention to climate change.
Raising his voice to overcome the jeering, he said the US was "committed to a billion dollar programme to develop and deploy advanced technologies to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions".
On assistance to developing nations, Powell repeated the US position that this would be given only to those "that are governed wisely and fairly, and are strongly committed to investing in health and education".
Under this initiative, President George Bush would be seeking from Congress an additional $5-billion a year, "and we will get to that level within three years".
"It will represent a 50% increase in the level of assistance we now provide."
On Nepad, he said the US welcomed the pledge by African leaders to the people of the continent to promote peace, security and people-oriented development.
Powell said the US would work with partners to spread the benefits of freer trade "as wide as possible".
Speaking about Zimbabwe to Sapa after Powell's address, Kansteiner said reports he received on Mugabe's speech -- which he had not heard -- indicated that he was "perhaps not facing up to the realities of his own situation, specifically the food shortages and food crisis that's unfolding in his country."
On sanctions he said the US had already had instituted "smart sanctions"against a number of Zimbabwe government officials and Mugabe "cronies."
The US was now looking at the legal machinery to freeze or sequestrate their assets.
Asked if South Africa should be doing more than it was doing at the moment he said: "I think South Africa is doing some very effective quiet things. I think there is a call that Nepad has put out that will probably require increased regional and neighbourhood pressure and I think in the months to come we will probably see that."
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