THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Dakar, Senegal) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release April 1, 1998
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE WILSON, SENIOR DIRECTOR FOR AFRICA, NSC Le Meridien President Hotel Dakar, Senegal
Q It was a good meeting?
MR. WILSON: Yes. Fruitful, frank discussions on a wide range of issues. Very clearly, they discussed the problems, or the issues, in the bilateral relationship and the opportunities in the future. Principally, Diouf began by applauding the President's initiative in taking this trip to Africa and in introducing a number of new initiatives to promote all the activities that you guys have all heard about all the way through the trip -- particularly education and the trade and investment.
Diouf also made the point that he is and the Senegalese are doing what they can in terms of economic reform to encourage the amount of private investment they think they need to really grow their economy over the long-term -- medium to long-term.
He also made a plea that we continue to remain active in our government-to-government assistance programs, specifically that AID remain present in Senegal. He pointed out that there are some public sector areas that remain the responsibility of the government, notably, education, health, infrastructure, agriculture, sectors like that where they still need some government-to-government assistance and support.
President Diouf talked a lot about the IBRD, the World Bank, and the nomination of Wolfensohn at the head. He pointed out that from the perspective of Africa, Wolfensohn has been a very good appointee, he's a man of vision, he's shown not just that he's a development banker, but that he is sincerely interested in such things as capacity, building in Africa.
Diouf also talked about some of the challenges to Senegal. He talked about them in terms of the government's responsibility to promote national unity and territorial integrity. They, of course, have a insurgency in the Casamance region in the south. He told us that while the vast majority of the Senegalese in the south wish to remain Senegalese, there is a small group -- a fistful of people who are well-armed and have such weaponry as even including land mines, who are disruptive down there. The Senegalese government is optimistic that they will be able to actually bring this insurgency to heal through - - negotiations. They think they may be very close to a breakthrough on having negotiations in the near future.
On multiparty democracy, Diouf offered that Senegalese and the run-up to the parliamentary elections continue to try and improve their institutions. They've attempted to associate all the political leaders of the various parties in developing electoral commissions and institutions to guarantee free, fair and transparent elections. He pointed out that it has long been a longstanding practice of the government to promote human rights and to continue to strive for the perfect democratic process.
He then turned to Senegal's really laudable performance in international peacekeeping operations and offered that in his judgment it is really very important that as a pre-set really to national unity, that peace be maintained, and not just within Senegal, but also within the context of whether conflicts, and that Senegal wishes to continue to be a partner in the activities of bringing peace to regions in conflict.
Let me see. I think that's about it on that.
Q Do we believe in that longstanding policy to promote human rights and democracy?
MR. WILSON: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely.
Q How many countries have embraced this African Crisis Response Initiative?
MR. WILSON: I believe that we've got six that are currently on line for training activities. There have been a number of other countries, including South Africa, that has expressed an interest in participating. As you know, the African Crisis Response Initiative is a self-selection process by and large. And as we talk to African countries and governments, and as they begin to understand what it is that they themselves hope to accomplish and what the role we can serve as a catalyst is, we expect that they'll continue to sign up.
Q Why do we think that this is necessary? I mean, there's this Nigerian-led force -- is it ECOMOG?
MR. WILSON: Yes, it's ECOMOG.
Q -- that has been successful in restoring leaders in Sierra Leone and peace in Liberia, after the civil war. Why are we coming into the picture with this?
MR. WILSON: Well, the genesis of the African Crisis Response Initiative came about as a consequence of our concern about a potential for a meltdown in Burundi. And at the time that we thought about it, we were trying to think of ways that we would be able to intervene before you have massive amounts of deaths along the lines of Rwanda. As our thinking evolved in consultation with African countries and with our European friends, we found that, in fact, there was probably some sort of long-term value added that we could contribute to what is essentially a longtime African idea, putting together a force of -- a multinational African force that could respond to these sorts of crises. So it's an idea that's been around for a long time.
We think that -- in fact, there's a wonderful reservoir on the continent of Africa of peacekeeping talent and experience. African peacekeepers have performed with great success in a number of peacekeeping operations. What we think that we can do working with African countries is enhance interoperability between and amongst African forces from different countries, as well as help eventually to put together a command and control package that allows organizations -- military organizations above the battalion level to operate. That would be in military command and control as well as political command and control.
Q Would this replace ECOMOG?
MR. WILSON: Actually, it would not replace it. It would be -- ECOMOG was sort an ad hoc organization put together out of the West African community to deal with the specific issue of Liberia and then subsequently, Sierra Leone. This would be -- ECOMOG will essentially disband after the Liberia problem is solved. ACRI is another opportunity, if there is another crisis, to pull together a multi-battalion force to go in and deal with the humanitarian relief operation or a peacekeeping operation.
Q Under whose auspices will this force be under? Will it include OAU? I know that you have opposition to that, right? What is the Senegalese -- what does he want?
MR. WILSON: Well, very clearly, before you were to deploy a force, a ACRI force, you would want to have all the approvals through the African organizations. That would include the OAU and the U.N. Either one or both.
Q Does it bother you the OAU also include Libya and --
MR. WILSON: Well, again, -- I mean, largely the criteria for participation is going to be a willingness to, one, participate and then, two, I think that there is going to be some -- in fact, we've said that we would consider principally as partners in this those countries that have a longstanding democratic tradition. And so that would make Libya not terribly attractive as a member. And I don't think -- in our case, we probably wouldn't -- we couldn't do business with a Libyan force.
Q Joe, does this keep U.S. troops from having to be sent over to handle crises on the African continent?
MR. WILSON: Well, very clearly, the whole question of when and where U.S. troops are deployed depends on the circumstance. For example, when we did the multinational force for Eastern Zaire, U.S. troops were deployed in advance of the potential task force going in. That task force never did go in because we could never define the mission. In fact, the refugees went home on their own.
In the case of Congo Brazzaville and a number of other small operations, there are criteria that we and the United Nations use to assess whether or not a peacekeeping delegation is going to be useful. Two of the criteria I'll just mention to you -- one, the protagonists basically have to agree that there will be a sustainable cease-fire, that they're not going to be shooting across the lines that peacekeepers will be occupying, and putting them in danger. Secondly, there has to be a genuine commitment to attempt to mediate their differences in a political forum. Otherwise, that's just not going to -- a peacekeeping force just basically puts a lot of people at unacceptable risk. We have laid that out. The United Nations has largely accepted that and we're working within those constraints.
Now, within the context of ACRI, there may, in fact, be operations in which we will want to insert forces for humanitarian relief for peacekeeping rather rapidly, and so this gives us an additional capability. It would be a force that would led by Africans. It would be a force that would have trained together and would be drawn from battalions of countries that want to step up to the mission.
The question of American participation in the near-term, there may well be unique capabilities that the United States could bring to bear on an operation such as logistical support, but it not currently conceived as an operation that would engage U.S. forces.
Q So how do you respond to critics who say that this initiative is an excuse for the United States not to get involved, not to intervene in crises?
MR. WILSON: The United States has been involved in a number of crises in Africa. In fact, if you go back and do the counting, you'll see that American troops have been deployed on African soil more than anywhere else in probably the last decade or so. But you can go back and do the count yourself, so I think that that's a rather specious criticism. I think that it is reasonable to attempt to continue to develop capacity so that other military forces can also step into the breach as crises develop, as they're interested in participating.
Q How long, realistically, before the ACRI is up and able to go in and take care of a problem?
MR. WILSON: I think ACRI as a deployable force will probably take a few more iterations of training, sustainable training. But I also think we're getting pretty close to where you could conceive of drawing upon ACRI trained forces to make up part of a peacekeeping operation, even if it were not called an ACRI operation.
Q I know that you all talked about this on the plane last night, Sandy did, but I just want to make sure we get it on camera -- about the phone call with President Chirac from France. Why did the President call him, and did President Chirac appreciate -- did he feel that this U.S. trip was an infringement on France's role?
MR. WILSON: To tell you the truth, I haven't gotten a readout on the total phone call, but I can tell you the call was made -- the historic relationship between Francophone Africa and France is well known, and particularly between Senegal and France is well known. President Chirac's longstanding keen interest in Africa is well known to the President. The President has engaged President Chirac on a number of occasions on African-related issues, so it was really appropriate and it was long-considered, this telephone call -- it was a question of when it was going to be made. It just happened to occur yesterday, which -- fine, we're on the eve of arriving in Senegal.
I think we appreciate all the opportunities that we've had to work with the French lately, notably on the African Crisis Response Initiative. As you look at what's going on in France, the French are also reassessing the whole nature of their relationship with their former African colonies. Our belief is that the French have a positive role to play on this continent, they have historic ties, they have -- ties. We're always looking for ways to find opportunities to work with them in areas where our interests coincide.
Q Was there anything that happened along the way during this trip that changed the concept or the hopes for this force? Were there things that the President learned that made different goals --
MR. WILSON: -- participate with in an ACRI type event anyway that are opposed to, notably Libya -- I think in Southern Africa there's always been a -- just to share with them our thinking on this in the hopes that that information exchange process would get them thinking about how they might consider contributing or participate on what role they might play in this.
Q In your discussion on the World Bank did it veer off at all into the subject of debt relief?
MR. WILSON: It did not.
Q How much AID did they get?
MR. WILSON: You'll have to check with Brian. I'm not sure. But historically, aid to -- since the drought in the mid-'70s has been considerable. I probably should not have used the word "issues," because I think you probably interpret issues as problems. But it's just talked about in bilateral relationships.
Q Are there any problems?
MR. WILSON. No.
MR. MCCURRY: -- that they use here. They've got an 8-year, $186-million AID program that focuses on developing --
Q Trade, not aid -- or has the concept of trade and aid changed where you're now going to be thinking we do have to concentrate a lot more on aid?
MR. WILSON: I don't know where we came up with the term.
(End of tape.)