4 U.S. Presidents attend Mandela memorial in South Africa

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Nelson Mandela, the first black president of South Africa, celebrates his 90th birthday on July 18, 2008 in Qunu, South Africa.

Nelson Mandela, the first black president of South Africa, celebrates his 90th birthday on July 18, 2008 in Qunu, South Africa.

WASHINGTON — The Air Force One flight from the U.S. to South Africa on Monday was historic not only for its final destination, but for its passenger list.

Joining President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama for the trip to Nelson Mandela’s memorial was former President George W. Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush, as well as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“The President and the First Lady have been able to spend time with the Bushes and with Secretary Clinton. And so I think it’s a unique experience obviously,” Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, told reporters aboard the flight.

He added that the dignitaries had been reflecting on their interactions with the anti-apartheid icon.

“He is a leader that intersected with so many different American political leaders of both parties over the years, and so each of them has their own experience with Mandela,” Rhodes said.

Reporters on the flight said George W. Bush visited the press cabin twice for off-the-record conversations, totaling about an hour and a half. His wife joined him for part of the time.

Attorney General Eric Holder, National Security Adviser Susan Rice and Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett were also on the plane Monday.

The high-profile figures mostly congregated in the plane’s conference room, White House press secretary Jay Carney said. When not in the conference room, the Obama’s stayed in the President’s cabin while the Bushes sat in the medical office located behind the Obama cabin. Clinton sat in the senior staff cabin behind the medical office, according to the White House pool report.

“It’s a very I think enjoyable experience certainly for the President and First Lady. And they’re both grateful to be able to have (the) former President and First Lady, former Secretary of State on board,” Carney added.

The plane stopped in in Dakar, Senegal to refuel before making its way to Johannesburg, South Africa.

Former President Bill Clinton and daughter Chelsea, as well as former President Jimmy Carter, are also slated to attend Mandela’s memorial, but they’re traveling separately from Air Force One. Former President George H.W. Bush, who is 89, is not scheduled to fly to South Africa.

The memorial for Mandela was scheduled to begin at 2 a.m. Mountain Time Tuesday.

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2 comments

  • DR Commish

    With all due respect….

    “The cause of Communism is the greatest cause in the history of mankind.”
    Nelson Mandela
    (We’ll see if this gets reported by anyone…)

    10 Days of Flags at Half-staff Nationwide for a Marxist…..
    0 Days for Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher….

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