WASHINGTON (AP) â€” President Clinton met today with South African President Thabo Mbeki, who appealed for U.S. support ``whatever our differences'' over how best to combat AIDS on the African continent.
Clinton greeted Mbeki, successor to the storied Nelson Mandela, with a formal ceremony in the White House East Room. The two leaders were cordial as they headed off to take up the thorny matter of obtaining low-cost AIDS drugs in South Africa and halting the spread of the virus through better prevention methods.
Mbeki flatly denied that he said the drug AZT, a common treatment for AIDS, is ineffective. South Africa has contacts with scientists who argue that AZT does not work, and the human immunodeficiency virus does not cause AIDS.
``I never said that. Pure invention. Pure invention,'' Mbeki said.
Arguing that it cannot afford AIDS drugs at current prices, South Africa has been embroiled in a protracted fight with pharmaceutical companies over plans to import generic versions of drugs for which the companies have patents. Five companies said last week they would cut the price of treatments for HIV and AIDS, an offer South Africa said it could not accept if it also had to give up the right to seek cheaper generic drugs.
Clinton said he was sympathetic to Mbeki's goal of obtaining cheaper AIDS drugs and would do what he could to resolve the drug dispute.
``We've got to get them to him. He's got to be able to afford them,'' Clinton said. ``You've got these five big pharmaceutical companies now that say they're going to help. The next couple months we'll see if we really can get a victory.''
While not directly referring to the AIDS dispute, Mbeki praised Clinton for consistently prodding other industrial powers to take a greater interest in fighting the problems that plague Africa â€” such as disease, famine and war.
``You and your administration have treated us with dignity, whatever our differences on specific matters, with sensitivity to our problems in an unwavering commitment to help us resolve these,'' Mbeki said.