President Barack Obama will share the tribute stage for Nelson Mandela on Tuesday with some foreign leaders with whom the U.S. has had complicated relations.
The official program for the state memorial service for the late South African president has Obama delivering the first tribute by a foreign leader. He will be followed by Brazil's president Dilma Rouseff, who months ago -- amid Brazilian furor over the NSA survelliance program -- became the first foreign leader to cancel a planned state visit to the U.S. and state dinner at the White House.
Also on list of foreign leaders paying tribute to Mandela: Raúl Castro Ruz, the president of Cuba, which has had a notoriously stormy relationship with the U.S. for decades.
South African President Jacob Zuma will deliver the keynote address at the service. Zuma last week announced Mandela's death at the age of 95.
Obama is expected to speak for about 10 to 15 minutes, said Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor for strategic communications. Rhodes said he expected Obama to reflect on what Mandela meant to South Africa and "to him personally, as well."
Rhodes said Obama began working on the speech after the South African government suggested that he speak at the event. But he noted Obama has "reflected" on Mandela many times, writing a forward for his book, "Conversations with Myself." And Rhodes said, Obama on his trip to South Africa, spoke frequently about Mandela and was able to visit the Robben Island jail cell where Mandela was held for nearly 30 years.
Obama left for the memorial service early Monday morning, along with former President George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush. The former president paid two visits to the press cabin aboard Air Force One to greet old friends and chat off the record. On one such visit, he was accompanied by Laura Bush.
Obama did not make an appearance.