President Obama is expected to make brief remarks at the memorial service for anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela on Tuesday, according to White House officials traveling with the president.
"We do expect President Obama to speak as part of the program," Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Johannesburg.
During that visit, Obama visited Robben Island, where Mandela was jailed during his extended captivity.
Rhodes also indicated that Obama would seek to meet with both the Mandela family and South African President Jacob Zuma during his time in Johannesburg.
“Unfortunately, we don’t know for certain because things are so fluid on the ground. But we would certainly like the opportunity for the president to pay his respects,” Rhodes said.
Obama will not be a part of the burial ceremony near Mandela’s ancestral home on Sunday, although a U.S. delegation is expected to attend.
The president was joined aboard Air Force One by former President George W. Bush, his wife, Laura, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Attorney General Eric Holder and National security adviser Susan Rice.
Former President Bill Clinton, his daughter, Chelsea, former President Jimmy Carter and more than 20 U.S. lawmakers are traveling to the country.
“Frankly, it’s always a balance; we don't want to be disruptive with the footprint that travels with the president,” Rhodes said. “We want to be respectful of what will be a very profound laying to rest of Nelson Mandela.”
The White House is also not expecting any formal bilateral meetings with other foreign leaders during his trip.
Security is expected to be tight at the memorial event, which is expected to draw dozens of world leaders. But the White House said officials had not heard any particular security concerns about the gathering.
“The South Africans hosted the World Cup, so they have experience hosting significant crowds and managing events like this,” Rhodes said, adding the U.S. was “confident in their ability to make sure that this is an appropriate sendoff for one of the truly extraordinary statesmen of the last century or of any time.”
The president was working throughout the more than 16-hour journey to South Africa, although White House officials said he had taken time to speak with the Bushes and Clinton. White House press secretary Jay Carney said that the group had congregated in the aircraft’s conference room, engaged in some “very good conversations.”
“I think it's just — it's a very, I think, enjoyable experience certainly for the president and first lady,” Carney said. “And they're both grateful to be able to have former president and first lady, former secretary of State on board.”