January 29, 2009 / 2:19 AM / 10 years ago

Obama presses South Africa on Zimbabwe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama spoke by phone with South African President Kgalema Motlanthe and said Pretoria had an important role to play in helping resolve Zimbabwe’s political crisis, the White House said on Wednesday.

“President Obama emphasized the importance of South Africa’s leadership role as a strong and vibrant democracy in Africa. The two leaders discussed their shared concerns about the situation in Zimbabwe,” the White House said in a statement.

“The president noted that South Africa holds a key role in helping to find a resolution to the political crisis in Zimbabwe,” the statement said.

Zimbabwe’s economy is in ruins with runaway inflation. A cholera epidemic has killed nearly 2,900 people since August.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, have been deadlocked in talks to form a power-sharing government.

The State Department said on Monday that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was concerned by Mugabe’s refusal to reach a deal and wanted South Africa, which has the most regional economic and diplomatic clout, to put more pressure on him.

Reporting by Caren Bohan; Editing by Peter Cooney

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