By BASILDON PETA in Pretoria
Zimbabwe's main opposition party has accused President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa of lying, and misleading George Bush over the Zimbabwe crisis.
The US President, who was in Pretoria yesterday as part of his first African tour, said Mr Mbeki was "the point man" to resolve Zimbabwe's political and economic impasse, which, he said, needed to be ended quickly for the sake of southern Africa's prosperity.
In a warming of relations, the two leaders held an hour of talks and presented a united front on Zimbabwe. At a joint press conference with Mr Bush, Mr Mbeki said talks were being held between the opposition Movement for Democratic Change and President Robert Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF.
"President Bush and myself are absolutely of one mind about the urgent need to address the political and economic challenges of Zimbabwe. It's necessary to resolve this matter as quickly as is possible," Mr Mbeki said.
But the MDC denied there were negotiations. The leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, called President Mbeki's claims as "false and mischievous".
He said they were "designed to buy time for the beleaguered illegitimate Mugabe regime".
The US has adopted an increasingly harsh tone on President Mugabe since his election win last year. It has imposed sanctions and called for Mr Mugabe's resignation.
Mr Tsvangirai said: "Since the aborted talks between the MDC and Zanu-PF in April 2002, there has been absolutely no political engagement between the two political parties. The Mugabe regime has remained intractable and sustained an arrogant and defiant programme of violence, torture, murder, rape and all manner of crimes against humanity"
The MDC deployed a high-powered delegation to Pretoria to try to lobby President Bush for more support in efforts to secure Mr Mugabe's exit from politics and save Zimbabwe from further collapse.
But Mr Bush said Mr Mbeki, who has criticised attacks on Mr Mugabe, was well-placed as the leader of a "mighty country in the neighbourhood" to deal with the Zimbabwe situation.
Before meeting with Mr Bush, Mr Mbeki criticised an article in The New York Times by the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, attacking Mr Mugabe and suggesting South Africa needed to do more.
Mr Powell and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice are among senior US officials accompanying Mr Bush on his visit. Mr Bush also renewed a pledge to "be involved" in helping end Liberia's civil war. With 150,000 troops in Iraq and 10,000 in Afghanistan, Bush said he would not overstretch the US military, but forces may be sent to Liberia.