THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Johannesburg, South Africa) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release March 28, 1998
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY; JOE WILSON, SENIOR DIRECTOR FOR AFRICA AT NAC; ERICA BARKES-RUGGLES, DIRECTOR FOR AFRICA AT NSC; ROSA WHITAKER, USTR REPRESENTATIVE FOR AFRICA
Sandton Civic Gallery Johannesburg, South Africa
7:55 P.M. (L)
MR. MCCURRY: I know many people are writing on deadline for Sunday papers. Joe Wilson, who is the Senior Director at the NAC for Africa; Erica Barkes-Ruggles, who is one of the directors for Africa at the NSC; and Rosa Whitaker, who the President introduced in his remarks as our new USTR representative for Africa are here to take any questions that you've got. And then, also, if someone wants a quick question on Botswana for a set-up overnight, Joe can do that, too.
MR. WILSON: All right, I guess we're here.
Q Joe, can you explain the relationship between the $650 million in OPIC funds described in this fact sheet by the President today, and then what's envisioned in the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act? Is it the same money?
MS. WHITAKER: Yes, it is. It represents up to $500 million for infrastructure fund and also $150 million equity fund, in this, the OPIC funds.
Q -- wait for the bill to be passed to set this up?
MS. WHITAKER: No. In fact, the $150 million fund is already underway. The fund manager has been selected and it's in progress.
Q I was curious, the President made a reference tonight to inviting African leaders to the United States for some kind of summit. When are we talking about and who was he thinking about inviting?
MR. WILSON: The President announced, actually in June of last year, so it's been envisioned since the time that we announced the Partnership for Economic Growth and Opportunity that there would be a summit sometime between now and next couple of three years, and that invited to that would be the leaders of those African countries that are actually reforming and showing considerable progress.
And I would just point out what the President said on this, that the criteria is not wealth, the criteria is will to reform and actually engage in those sorts of activities that we think will yield growth-oriented economies.
Q Do you have a date for it?
MR. WILSON: No, we don't. Sometime in the next three years.
Q Could you explain to us how the debt relief would work -- the $35 million in the budget translating to $1.6 billion of debt canceled?
MS. BARKES-RUGGLES: Yes, the $35 million request that the President submitted with his budget this year is to cover the U.S. budget cost for approximately $1.6 billion in bilateral concessional debt relief. The reason the numbers don't match up very well when you look at $35 million and $1.6 billion is because it's discounted relief, so that's what it costs us to pay off $1.6 billion. That's out budget cost for that.
Q If I may, what is the definition of concessional debt? I mean, how to define that?
MS. BARKES-RUGGLES: It's debt that was loaned -- it's loans that were on concessional terms. Some examples of concessional debt relief include AID PL-480 money, for instance. There's about four or five different categories of concessional, and then there's non-concessional debt relief.
Q Low-interest debt --
MS. BARKES-RUGGLES: That's correct, yes. It's low-interest debt relief.
Q Where does the $35 million figure come form? Does writing off the money or -- I don't quite understand that.
MS. WHITAKER: I'm sorry, I don't understand your question.
Q How do you get from $1.6 billion to $35 million?
MS. BARKES-RUGGLES: That's our budget cost for this year for writing off approximately $1.6 billion. It's discounted debt, so we would be buying back debt at a discounted rate. That's why the difference. It's the market value of that debt.
Q So it's virtually worthless?
MS. BARKES-RUGGLES: This is debt that hasn't been paid off. That's why it's deeply discounted.
Q On the OPIC money, is that money already available?
MS. WHITAKER: Yes, the $150 million --
Q Has it already been available, if so, has anybody spent any of it?
MS. WHITAKER: The $150 million equity fund, a fund manager has been selected. On the infrastructure fund, the plans are underway to get that going. That has -- a fund manager has not been selected for that, but the resources are there and available.
MS. BARKES-RUGGLES: Can I also add that there is an additional $120 million equity investment fund that was announced last May by OPIC, which was concentrating on Southern Africa, which has already started lending money. There are two loans that are active here in South Africa to a total of $20 million.
Q Could you talk a little bit about Botswana, the leg?
MR. WILSON: Yes. Tomorrow the President will be traveling to Botswana. He'll be meeting with President Masire and attending a reception in his honor being hosted by President Masire. This visit to Botswana comes two days before President Masire retires from office. The purpose of the visit is to acknowledge appropriately the second peaceful transition of the longest continuous democracy in Africa. While he is there, the President will also travel to Chobe Game Reserve for a day to see the game and to visit a village in northern Botswana where there will be what is called a "khotla," a local government town hall meeting.
When he returns from Chobe, he will be conducting an environmental roundtable with some of the leading environmentalists from the continent.
Q Do you know what they talk about at this town hall meeting?
MR. WILSON: I never served in Botswana, but I think it is a -- let me just sort of lay out for you. The khotla concept is one in which actually is the way that they do local governance there. And it feeds into the way they do national policies in a way that is fundamentally different from some of the other colonial and post-colonial experiences. It has allowed, if you will, for a pretty good connection between local governance and national governance in a way that you don't see in other countries.
Q Speaking of watching the game, is the President going to watch the games tonight?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know his plans tonight. He's having a reception with the delegation, and his plans for after that are unclear.
MR. WILSON: I can just tell you one thing, the President has worked awfully hard the last several days. If he can stay awake, more power to him.
MR. MCCURRY: Anything else? Thank you guys.
Go ahead, Sam.
Q Mike, the Jones lawyers claim today that they asked for material on Willey two or three months ago and they were told by the White House there wasn't any, and then you came up with these letters.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not familiar -- they've apparently sent a letter. I'm not familiar with it. I'll refer that to Mr. Bennett back in Washington.
Q Do you have any comment on the other charges the Jones lawyers have out there about this deposition from someone --
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't seen the letter, I'm not familiar with it, don't have any comment on it.
Q Can you respond to what Tom DeLay said about the President, saying that he was an aging hippy who had come over here and apologized and selling out the country?
MR. MCCURRY: I notice that Mr. DeLay was being criticized for not being far-right enough, so he was apparently attempting to correct that malady with a bit of whacked-out commentary.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, as in off the deep end.
Q Anything on Jonesboro, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: Nothing new that I've heard. The President is trying to -- they're having a memorial service at some point next week and we're trying to arrange some way in which the President can send a message to that. But we'll keep you advised on that.
Q What about that investigation based on -- the allegation that places on delegations, business delegations by the Commerce Department were sold to Democratic contributors?
MR. MCCURRY: Mark, you're aware of the very strong and categorical denial that the White House has made on that matter. I'm reluctant to comment on a process that the Justice Department has to undertake because of the statute, but I think that that matter can be resolved very expeditiously, given the truth.
Q I wanted to ask about the transition regarding Nigeria. The President said --
MR. MCCURRY: That's not exactly what he said. Mr. Berger, the National Security Advisor, has, through the pool that accompanied the President today, talked a little bit about that. If you can get a copy of our poor report number 19, I think he's addressed that at some length. That's available.
Q What is the position of the United States regarding --
MR. MCCURRY: -- very well in the document I just indicated. There is a considerable amount of change that needs to occur in Nigeria to move it to the pathway of democracy and we haven't seen that change and all the rest is speculation. But pool report number 19 is the document you're looking for.
Anything else? Okay, good. We'll do some kind of readout following the bilaterals in Botswana tomorrow, and then we are going to game preserve mode. There will be one opportunity each day that your small pool with the President will have to sort of see the President doing something and probably have some exchange with him, and I don't anticipate a lot of news, so enjoy your days coming up.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 8:00 P.M. (L)