THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Dakar, Senegal) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release April 1, 1998
PRESS BRIEFING BY PRESS SECRETARY MIKE MCCURRY AND NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR SANDY BERGER
Le Meridien President Hotel Dakar, Senegal
8:15 P.M. (L)
MR. MCCURRY: I know everyone is filing, you want to get done early tonight, but I did want to have National Security Advisor Sandy Berger put a little punctuation mark on this trip as we head back to the United States tomorrow, take any questions you have about today. We'll make this short and brief.
MR. BERGER: Mr. McCurry.
First of all, the President has asked me to notify you that he is so pleased with this trip that he's extending for another week. We will not go home until we see a leopard. (Laughter.)
Let me spend a few minutes and try to encapsulate the extraordinary 11 days that I think we've had. The President is enormously pleased with the trip. He believes it has been good for the United States and good for relations with a continent, Africa, that is increasingly important.
We set out on this journey with three objectives that I think I talked to many of you about in the briefing room back in Washington. The first was to try to help Americans rethink Africa and Africans rethink America; to see Africa in a more complex and multifaceted way than we have tended to do as we see only famine and starvation and crisis. And I think that's happened over this trip.
I think we've seen the new vitality in Africa. We've seen new leaders who are trying to move their country toward democracy, some making more progress than others. We've seen economic growth in the continent, which now averages about five percent. And in general, I think both in the individual stops -- whether it was the Jinja Village or where we just came from in Senegal -- you see people helping themselves sometimes with our help and the help of the international community. And I think it has been very good in terms of African perceptions of the United States.
The President said he came to listen and learn, as well as to speak. He certainly did that, particularly with the leaders that he met with, asking their views. And I think what Africans saw was a United States that does not pretend that it has all the answers, who do not seek to dominate the continent, but seeks to work with the continent.
The second objective the President talked about was to describe a new partnership between the United States and Africa. And we have talked about the various aspects of that over the course of the trip -- unwrapping, announcing initiatives with respect to education, food security, malaria, transportation, the Great Lakes justice initiative, trade and investment, debt relief, OPEC financing. All of these reflect a commitment on the part of the United States to work closely with the nations of Africa as they chart their future.
I also think, as I've talked to the people as we've moved around, that the fact that this trip was 12 days, while it was rather punishing for you and for us in many respects, it was enormously significant for the Africans. I think the fact that an American President not only came to Africa, but came to Africa for an extended period of time and made that kind of commitment of time and energy to this continent sent a powerful message to the continent and one that was not missed. I can't tell you how many leaders said in wonderment that they were so honored the that President of the United States would spend 12 days traveling through, learning about, meeting about Africa. I think it was a very powerful statement of our interest here and I think it will have lasting benefits for us.
The third and final objective that I talked about before we left was to make clear America's stake in this continent of 700 million people. We have already 100,000 American jobs that depend upon exports to Africa. But Africa represents only one percent of our trade. So the potential here for jobs in Africa, jobs in America through economic partnership as these countries now compete as much for investment as they do for aid I think is enormous and one that we obviously will continue to try to build upon.
Certainly this is a continent that still faces daunting challenges. We saw that in its most stark form in Rwanda, where the people there described the 90 days of terror. But it's throughout the continent. There are still widespread poverty, still environmental problems that are getting worse -- we saw some of that today as we flew over what is increasingly becoming desert. There are problems of disease, problems of -- political problems of regimes that do not respect human rights and that are not moving to democracy.
But I think if you look at the sweep of things over the last 10 years, over the last 15 years, you have to say that Africa is moving in the right direction and that this trip, I think, will both help it in that effort and strengthen our own commitment to be of assistance.
The President, when I asked him to sum up the trip, said he was enormously impressed by the vitality, energy and creativity of Africa's leaders and people; I go back to the United States determined to build this partnership for the benefit of Americans and Africans.
Why don't I stop there and I will attempt to answer your questions.
Q The foundation for this renaissance you've been talking about is increased stability in the region. What can you tell us that you've learned in these 12 days about the greatest threat to that security going forward?
MR. BERGER: I think the greatest threat is poverty. When we met with the environmental activists, the environmental NGO folks in Botswana -- excuse me, if I can't remember what day, what town, what country -- in Botswana, one of the leaders said when the President asked what is the single most important environmental problem in Africa, you could answer climate change, you could answer desertification, you could answer -- he said three problems: poverty, poverty, poverty. And I think that still remains the problem.
What is changing is that these countries now -- two-thirds of them are moving towards the kind of market economies in which they will, over time, become less dependent on less dependable aid, and more able, through trade and investment to build a self-perpetuating growth. But I think still you'd have to say that is the greatest threat to stability and to peace.
Q Mr. Berger, what do Mr. Mandela's comments about the African trade bill do for the bill's prospects in the Senate?
MR. BERGER: I think the bill's prospects in the Senate are enhanced by this trip enormously. I'll come back to Mandela. But with the exception of President Mandela, every leader we met with went out of his way to say how important this was to them, how much they believed in it, how committed they were.
I think that some of the things that President Mandela was describing -- for example, a bill that might have an impact on Libya or it might have an impact on Cuba -- I think are just misunderstandings, and we will seek to work with him on those issues.
I know we have had long conversations with Deputy President Mbeki, who had some concerns, and I think many of his concerns have been allayed. So I think in general, the fact that we have been here, we have been here with a congressional delegation, the American people have seen this, have watched it, we will talk about it back home with a greater degree of knowledge and intensity all mean that the trip helps the bill. We still have a job ahead of ourselves the same.
Q Were you surprised about how often the trade, not aid formulation came up? I know that's not how you view it, but it seemed to me during the trip people raised it a fair --
MR. BERGER: It's a complex and sort of false dichotomy, I think. I think it is healthy that many African leaders are saying it is not only aid. But they're also saying -- I didn't hear very many of them say, we don't want aid. I mean, there are some that are no longer eligible for our program because they're graduated beyond it, but I think most of them believe that aid is a transition to a point where they have enough infrastructure, enough education, enough trained work force where they can attract investment and where they can trade.
And the thing that's important about the African Trade bill is that we -- it gives these countries some greater access to the United States market. This is very important to them.
Q Sandy, why did the President choose Goree Island for his final speech if he didn't want slavery to be a dominant theme on this trip?
MR. BERGER: Well, I don't think that it was planned in that manner. I mean, you have a trip, you want to go to Eastern Africa, you want to go to Southern Africa, you want to go to Western Africa, you want to spend as little time on airplanes as you can. I think this is more a question for the schedulers than for anybody else. Goree Island is, I think, a very important symbol and it will be one of the things we do tomorrow, and the President will obviously speak about the importance of that location. But I think the speech tomorrow will be more about what this trip has been about as a whole.
Q How would you respond to criticism that in America the President's trip here has been a tour of contrition? And do you think this trip has further exposed America's racial problems?
Q Has been what?
MR. BERGER: A tour of contrition. Words you may have heard before. I just don't accept that. I think that the President has given 26 speeches in this trip; they've talked about a whole wide range of things. In the course of those speeches, the President said that slavery was wrong. I'm not sure what the counter-argument is, but I -- (laughter) -- but I would like to hear those who criticized him for saying that explain why it wasn't wrong.
The President said we were slow off the mark in Rwanda. I think that's a fact almost indisputable. So I think that, quite honestly, that's a little bit of a distortion of what this trip has been about. And, no, I don't think it's -- I think, if anything, quite the contrary. I think that Africa is not just a continent for African Americans. I mean, Africa is a continent, first of all, for Africans. But from an American perspective, this is, like Latin America, like Asia perhaps a few years ago and maybe a few months from now, is a continent that is on the move. And we will either be part of that or we won't. And I think the fact that the President has been here and has made his mark means that we will be part of it.
Q Do you imagine the President would be back in Africa at any point between now and the end of his term?
MR. BERGER: Not this year. (Laughter.)
Q And your quotes are very helpful for the press, but I'm a little surprised, I don't think I've ever seen the President go off on a major trip like this where he hasn't done some concluding news conference to talk about the 26 speeches he's given. But I believe there was only one news conference, the one with President Mandela. Is there a reason the President hasn't some kind of setting like that to --
MR. BERGER: I think he's been fairly accessible in formal and informal ways during the trip. But I'd leave those questions to Mr. McCurry, who is an expert on the question of relations between the press and the President. I merely do foreign policy.
Q Sandy, 20 years ago, Africa was a continent on the move. The GNP of these countries was in many cases higher than it is now. The terms of trade collapsed for these people because they couldn't sell their raw materials abroad. What do you think has changed that would prevent that from happening again if there was a world recession? We are at a moment of tremendous prosperity in the world today; some of it is slopping over on Africa. Structurally, what's the difference?
MR. BERGER: I think there are a couple of differences. Number one, I think that the prevailing philosophy of African governments today is different than it was 20 years ago. I think most African governments now know that this is a global economy and you cannot grow disconnected from the global economy for very long. And this is something this new generation of leaders, whether it's Meles or Museveni or others that we've met and not met I think understand that. So I think they've changed their own policies. I think that's number one.
I think, number two, there certainly were distortions during the '70s and '80s, through the Cold War period, in which the Horn of Africa, for example, was a surrogate war that really had much to do with East-West struggle. Ethiopia was on both sides twice in that struggle. So I think that the most -- number one, in a sense the end of the Cold War liberates us to think of the continent and to deal with the continent in a way which is much more based upon what these countries are contributing and can do.
Second of all, I do think that they -- this new generation, more than the generation of leaders that were the leaders of independence understand that "it's the economy stupid" -- that was not a reference to anybody.
Q Susan Rice, in setting up this trip, gave a speech noting that U.S. policy in the past has been marked by indifference toward Africa. How do you keep the policy from being indifferent now?
MR. BERGER: Well, I think that it takes work. First of all, if a President is interested, that has a certain ineluctable effect on the bureaucracy, number one.
Number two, partly we need a lot of procedural follow-up. I mean, we have over the next several months, Secretary Daley coming out with a trade delegation. We have Secretary Slater coming out through Africa to deal with the aviation initiative that the President. Secretary Rubin -- I don't know when the last time a Treasury Secretary came to Africa -- will be making a trip to Africa. And the fact that we've had on this trip a number of members from the administration has been helpful.
But I think that we just have to continue to follow up on the commitments that were made. After these trips I do, literally, an inventory of all the commitments that have been made, and about once a month I send a note to all of the people who are responsible and ask them for a status report and intend to do that here, as well.
Q Sandy, how patient is the United States willing to be to allow these African nations potential to come to fruition? Are you looking long-term, say, two decades, or are you anticipating some results by 2001, 2002?
MR. BERGER: Well, I think that's very hard to answer. I mean, as Johnny's question suggested, there are global economic factors here. If we go back into a recession where our market is not expanding, but contracting, obviously it has an impact on imports.
I think one of the things that I think we gain from this trip, all of us, is a sense of differentiation. It's not just Africa. There's Ghana, there's Botswana, there's Senegal, et cetera. And to the extent that we have that sense as a government, to the extent that we have that sense as a press, to the extent the American people has that sense, then I think we're prepared to see some countries move faster than others. Some like South Africa, obviously, have enormous potential to move rather quickly; others are terribly poor and are going to move more slowly.
But the real premise of the trade bill and the reason why, to the extent there's disagreement with it -- I disagree with the disagreement -- is that it simply says everybody gets some greater access, but for those countries that are making progress towards reform, they get more access. Making progress can be from a very low base of real poverty or from a higher base. It's not a question of where you start; it's a question of what's the direction of the trajectory.
Q In Kagali, after the President saw the Rwanda victims, he talked about never again being shy in the face of evidence of genocide. And you talked to some of us after that about the evolution of those thoughts and -- they'd go. I think in the Mandela press conference he said something about establishing a system that gives us a means to go in and stop these things from happening. Can you give us an indication of how the words, whether they may lead to a presidential directive or whether -- what we can expect over the next month or so in fleshing this out?
MR. BERGER: Let me go back in time, though, because the African Crisis Response Initiative that you saw today in Dakar is a direct result of Rwanda. It was the frustration that we felt with not being able to mobilize quickly enough that led people in the administration in 1994 to conceive of an African Crisis Response Initiative, which now has about six countries that have signed up and, happily, President Mandela, even though he said he could not accept an American commander, which, of course, has never been contemplated, made a very forward-leading statement about South Africa's participation. So part of the response is continuing to go forward with that, which gives Africa capabilities to respond to crisis.
I think the Entebbe summit was a step forward. You have the leaders of that region, the Great Lakes region, signing on to a statement that commits them to act together to try to prevent these things from happening. Now, of course, we know there's a difference between communiques and history. But I think that's an important recognition of common enterprise.
Now, beyond that, there's several things we can do. First of all, we can try to get our intelligence community, ask our intelligence community to try to do some modeling as to how one can look ahead and foresee failed states and states that may be susceptible to this kind of violence, so that you could at least have on your radar screen more -- somewhat more rapidly, a tool for prediction. I think ultimately, there is the question of what peacekeeping can do in that situation. After the meeting in Rwanda, I talked with President about this for an hour, and it is not a simple question.
I mean, it is not a simple question as to what peacekeepers can do in a situation at the point at which there's total chaos, there's no government, and there's killing door to door. That is not your -- that's not even Bosnia. But I think there are things one can do and we want to look at them. And when we go back, Joe Wilson, and Susan Rice and others are very determined to focus in on trying to do better. One can't ever say you can predict the future, but I think we can try to have better mechanisms in place.
Q Sandy, are you familiar with this academic debate over how central Goree Island was or wasn't in terms of the point of embarkation for the slave trade? There's one view that has it the main point through which millions flowed and others have come on to debunk that and say, no, it really was more peripheral. Do you know about the debate and do you care? Does it matter one way or the other in terms of symbolism?
MR. BERGER: I am familiar with this disagreement as to how -- whether it was the most important or just one slave point. I don't think it matters. I think it's an important thing to see. And we certainly aren't asserting that this is the most important point of embarkation, it just happens -- it's one close to Dakar.
Q Would you please talk a little bit more about what the President is going to say tomorrow. Will he address the legacy of slavery and not make an apology?
MR. BERGER: I think he will talk about the journey that many of our fellow Americans made to the United States through doors like that. But, as I say, I think that this is a speech that is primarily about -- this is the last speech that we're giving before we're leaving, and it is, I think, more importantly, an opportunity, the last opportunity to look back on the last 12 days, for the President to talk about what he's seen and why he thinks it's important, and again, to -- for us, this trip is about a lot of things, but it is primarily about the future. And I think that will be reflected tomorrow.
MR. MCCURRY: Anything else before we call it a night?
Q What's the deal with tonight?
MR. MCCURRY: I think he's going to have some dinner tonight somewhere.
Q Mike, the head of the -- the Bishop of Philadelphia criticized the President for receiving communion during a Mass in South Africa. Do you know anything about that? Was the President told about that?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, the President was informed that the Conference of Bishops of South Africa takes a more ecumenical view of the Holy Eucharist, and as those of you who were there recall, in the printed program for the service, all baptized Christians were invited to partake in communion. The President felt that was an invitation that he wanted to accept, as did many of the Protestants who were attending.
Q Has he talked with anyone about it since, or he just --
MR. MCCURRY: No. It was an invitation extended not only on behalf of the parish that we visited, but on behalf of the Conference. The Mass was officiated by the -- one of the officiants was the Archbishop, and so it clearly was doctrinally correct with the Conference of Bishops of South Africa, and obviously, some Catholic conferences may take a different view.
Q Is the President displeased --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't think there is an extensive debate about whether it was proper for him to celebrate communion at that occasion.
Q Mike, do you know who the President is going to Goree Island with, what part of his delegation, who in his delegation he'll be touring Goree with tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: Who he will tour with tomorrow? I think a number of the delegation will be there, but we'll just have to see what develops tomorrow. I don't know precisely if -- I think most of the members of the delegation who are with us plan to be there tomorrow.
Q Do you know about this morning event?
MR. MCCURRY: I know he plans to visit, given that Islam is a predominant religion of most citizens of Senegal, he thought it was appropriate to visit a mosque.
Q I meant the roundtable.
MR. MCCURRY: The President has done four major roundtables during this trip -- education, genocide victims, the environmental roundtable yesterday. Tomorrow the President will take the opportunity to meet with a number of non-governmental organizations that have been involved in humanitarian aid, economic development, stimulation of private sector enterprise, some of which we saw today, and it will be an opportunity to get a collection of thoughts from some of the experts who serve in this region on that subject.
I think we've got some more factsheets available on that.
Q Do you want to tell us why he doesn't want to do a final press conference wrapping up --
MR. MCCURRY: He's had opportunities every day to meet with you all and that's gone well, and there's been give-and-take and he's found it more than satisfactory.
Q Can you tell us about tomorrow's events?
MR. MCCURRY: Not beyond the fact that he wants to -- he thought it was appropriate to acknowledge the predominant role that Islam plays in the culture of Senegal and to also celebrate that aspect of its religious heritage.
Q Has he expressed any concern to you at all about the notion of once we all get home the major media is probably going to forget about Africa --
MR. MCCURRY: He has not expressed that to me, no.
Okay. Thank you.
END 8:48 P.M. (L)