PRETORIA, South Africa -- President F. W. de Klerk left South Africa yesterday for a long-awaited visit to the United States, saying he hoped to convey the message that his country was on an irreversible road to change.
The two-day visit will be Mr. de Klerk's first to the United States as South Africa's head of state and the first for any South African leader since 1945. He will be greeted by anti-apartheid protests that have already been organized, but he is expected to receive a warm welcome tomorrow from President Bush, who invited the South African president to the White House.
Mr. de Klerk said he was not going "hat in hand" to plead for an end to economic sanctions or any other specific action by the U.S. government.
"I think that will take care of itself as South Africa proves . . . that we mean business" about abolishing racial discrimination in South Africa, he told U.S. journalists at a news conference in Pretoria, the country's administrative capital.
Since coming to office a year ago, Mr. de Klerk has legalized political organizations such as the African National Congress and the Communist Party, has released dozens of political prisoners, including ANC leader Nelson Mandela, and has abolished the law that permitted segregation of public accommodations. He also has promised to scrap other apartheid laws next year.
U.S. sanctions were imposed by Congress in 1986 and cannot be lifted until South Africa has met certain conditions, including the release of all political prisoners.
Mr. de Klerk's trip follows a successful U.S. visit in June by Mr. Mandela, who urged the world to continue economic sanctions to keep pressure on South Africa.
Mr. de Klerk is scheduled to arrive in Washington today and to depart for home Tuesday evening.
[In Washington, the Congressional Black Caucus announced yesterday that it had canceled a scheduled meeting with Mr. de Klerk, according to the Associated Press. The caucus, which includes all 24 black members of Congress, did not give a reason other than to say the decision was made "in response to recent developments in South Africa and after extensive consultation with anti-apartheid activists."]