South African Peace Leader Nelson Mandela's Towering Influence on Obama

ABC News' Jon Karl on President Obama's moving experience visiting Mandela's South African jail cell.
3:00 | 12/05/13

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Transcript for South African Peace Leader Nelson Mandela's Towering Influence on Obama
Want to bring in our chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl. And John certainly President Obama has been made aware of the news of the lost this afternoon are we hearing anything yet from the president. The White House is well aware of this obviously this is something they've been tracking for a long time no official statement yet. I expect when shortly but I can tell you David. Nelson Mandela was a towering influence on President Obama inspiration. If you look right now on the screen that is. He won -- only photograph of -- Obama and Mandela together. It happened from the one time that Obama got to meet his hero was when he was a young freshman senator. Newly elected senator and Mandela was visiting Washington he had that meeting at the single photo -- you could see Obama in silhouettes. The president. Back. When he was Senator Obama wrote a -- to a book by Nelson Mandela and the words here I give you a sense and and by the way you -- the pictures you're seeing right now that is. The president in this cell. Where Nelson Mandela spent seventeen. Years in prison on Robben Island in South Africa seventeen of the of its 47 years. That Nelson Mandela spent in prison. We visited Iran that trip though the president visited South Africa earlier this year. He had hoped to get a chance to have one last meeting when Mandela Mandela was in no condition for such a meeting. But the president visited. That -- visited Robben Island to win out into the quarries where. We're Nelson Mandela and the other prisoners were what what were forced to do horse labor. It was clearly a very emotional visit for the president. As you see he brought Michelle he he. Talked about Mandela's influence on his life and in this forward that President Obama than senator Bonner road. To the book by Mandela he said to many of us he was more than just demand. He was a symbol of the struggle for justice equality and dignity in South Africa and around the globe. His sacrifice was so great that it called upon people everywhere to do what they could on behalf of human progress. And there you see the daughters got to go into that sells well a very emotional experience for the entire -- Obama family. And really I do I don't think you can overstates. How much of an influence Mandela has has been on on Barack Obama. And John were learning that we should hear from the president shortly on the passing of Nelson Mandela and quite frankly gives you chills to look at the images of the president the First Lady the daughters there in that cell and in a trip not long ago the South Africa. In the archive room we were given the opportunity to look at some of the letters -- written to his children his family members to Winnie Mandela will he was in that cell and he would. Often practice the letters inside his notebook -- -- draft of them before actually sending out the letter because it was. Told to meet if there was a quote of letters he was only allowed so many of them a year or so he was very careful that the letters he did send out. We're perfectly written -- precisely the message he wanted to --

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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