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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release December 1, 1998
                             PRESS BRIEFING

                            The Briefing Room

1:45 P.M. EST

MR. LEAVY: We've got a number of briefings, but first let me introduce Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for African Affairs, Gayle Smith, who will give you a read out of the President's meeting with President Chissano today of Mozambique. As you know, the President has been engaged in African affairs since his trip in March. He's met with President Mandela, General Abubakar of Nigeria, and this is another meeting in a series of that engagement.

MS. SMITH: Good afternoon. Thank you for those lights, it's very helpful.

Q Well worth it in your case.

MS. SMITH: Thank you. President Clinton met this morning with President Chissano of Mozambique. By way of background, Mozambique is one of the finest success stories on the Continent. It emerged from a civil war of 16 years, one of the most brutal in the Continent's history, to have national elections in 1994. They will have democratic elections again later next year in October.

One of the exemplary things about Mozambique is that the two parties that were archenemies, killing each other in the most brutal fashion during the war, are now engaged as peaceful political competitors. In addition, Mozambique holds a very good record in the field of economic reform. It is qualified for the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative, or HIPC, which is something that the President is fully behind.

And President Chissano has been a leader in regional peace efforts. He is the Vice President of the South Africa Development Community and has played a prominent role in trying to bring peace to Angola, obviously in his own country, in the Congo and in as far reaching places as Guinea-Bissau and West Africa.

They met for about 40 minutes. The key issues that they discussed, President Chissano reviewed some of Mozambique's aims for the next year, including trying to resolve problems that may arise in the elections process; some of their goals on the economic side to further develop their infrastructure, again, as they proceed in recovery from the conflict. He thanked the United States for our leading role in helping Mozambique to reduce its debt levels, which did stand at $5.5 billion for one of the poorest countries on the face of the Earth.

And they also talked about the Congo which, as you may know, is the most dangerous conflict ever to have taken place on African soil. It involves some nine countries, as many as 14 different armies. President Chissano was in Paris at the France-Africa summit, where there was an agreement among the parties to come together in the first week of December and move toward a cessation of hostilities and then hopefully in mid-December reach agreement on a cease-fire arrangement.

Again, President Chissano, in light of his own experience on reconciliation and bringing peace to his own country has played a very prominent role in that process. So it was a very productive meeting, no surprises. We very much wanted to do this meeting to recognize and acknowledge Mozambique's progress and to underscore the point that despite the fact that we do have some crisis still ongoing in Africa as in the rest of the world, like in Congo, Mozambique, like many other countries, stands out as an example of the kind of progress in leadership which President Clinton wishes to reward and engage with in his partnership on Africa.

Q What is the level of U.S. aid, if any, to Mozambique? And did President Chissano say he wanted more?

MS. SMITH: The level of aid to Mozambique, there was a multi-sectoral aid agreement signed this morning with Brian Atwood of $66 million. That's on the development and humanitarian side. In addition, we will be providing, as I said, another million for elections in 1999.

We're also working with Mozambique on mine clearance. Mozambique still has as many as 2 million mines in the country, which is obviously preventing development, particularly agricultural development, in some parts of the country.

He didn't ask for more aid specifically. He did refer to some areas where Mozambique would like to work closely with the United States, in particular on improving the levels of American investment. Ambassador Barshefsky signed a bilateral investment treaty with the Mozambiquans, which we hope will help. We have very many American companies who are interested in further investment in Mozambique. And he talked about some studies that they would like to do on infrastructural development on which they would like our assistance and support and we'll be looking into that.

Q Who all was at the meeting in the Oval Office?

MS. SMITH: Secretary Albright, Secretary Rubin, National Security Advisor Berger, Deputy Advisor Jim Steinberg, myself. And then President Chissano had his Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, Foreign Affairs, his Ambassador and his Minister of Finance.

Q Did he mention problems in the election process in '99?

MS. SMITH: Yes. They weren't serious compared to some other first elections after a conflict. The opposition was not terribly organized and the voter turnout was disappointingly low -- predominantly because one of the things that was targeted during the war on Mozambique was the infrastructure, so that the roads and communications that are necessary to do voter registration were not all in place.

He has met with the democratic opposition and agreed with them to do what's necessary before the elections in October to sort those problems out.

Q Where do they stand with the peace process in the Congo in general and where is the U.S. involved with that right now, if at all?

MS. SMITH: We are involved in that. I traveled out to the region a couple of weeks ago with Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Susan Rice. We met with the majority of the parties to the conflict to try to discern whether there were any openings. I think we found that there are some. I think we were also able to provide a bit of a communications link between and among leaders who unfortunately are fighting each other right now, but had only recently been very good friends and working together on the same side of the fence.

As you may have heard in France over the weekend, during the France-Africa summit -- which included all sub-Saharan African countries, except Libya and Sudan -- most of the parties were able to meet. And, importantly, from the different sides they were able to meet bilaterally. And they agreed that at an upcoming meeting planned for December 7th in Lusaka that they will agree to a cessation of hostilities. That will be at the ministerial level. And then on or around December 15th they meet in Ouagadougou at an OAU meeting and plan to sign a cease-fire agreement.

Q Is this with President Kabila's involvement?

MS. SMITH: President Kabila was there in France and has agreed to this. Now, it's not in writing and obviously folks are at war, so there's no guarantee. I do believe that there is the political will. One of the things that we found on our trip, we underscored the high cost of this not only financially, but also politically, in terms of divisions between two parts of the Continent. I don't think any of them needed to be reminded of that, they're quite frightened of that themselves.

President Kabila is disinclined to want to talk to the rebels face-to-face, but I think has been encouraged by his African colleagues that there's going to need to be a way to do that, and also broaden the political space in Kinshasa and across Congo.

Q Did you get any, though, sort of commitment from him that he will, or is there any indication that he's going to talk face-to-face, or are you pressuring that?

MS. SMITH: Right now, the way the talks work is there's an ad hoc committee that has been set up by SADC, which includes several heads of state to liaise with the rebels and do the proximity talks that are necessary.

If that's what's necessary in the first stage that's fine, if that works to get an agreement for cessation of hostilities and a cease-fire, that's sufficient. Ultimately, Congolese from all different backgrounds are going to have to sit down and sort this out. But Kabila's indications in Paris were, in the main, fairly positive.

Q Were there discussions at all about this postponed U.S.-African meeting, African presidents meeting?

MS. SMITH: No, no we did not discuss that. We've discussed that with the Mozambiquan ambassador here. The Mozambiquans are fine with it. They know we intend to do the economic forum in 1999, as well as the broader conference in the first quarter. But it didn't come up in the meeting.

Q Do you have a firm date now in 1999?

MS. SMITH: For the forum? For the first conference? We're working on schedules to first make sure that we don't have any conflicts in Africa -- there are a number of OAU and COMESA meetings. And, secondly, to make sure we've got the exact date that we can get our key principals involved. But we should have that date fairly soon.

Q And what was the real reason that you can tell me why the --

MS. SMITH: The real reason that I can tell you -- (laughter.)

Q Yes, the real reason why this conference --

MS. SMITH: There were a number of factors. One was scheduling, quite honestly, on our side and the African side. Another question was that the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act -- in which the economic forum is mentioned, as well as being mentioned in the President's partnership -- we very much hope to see passed as soon as possible and are committed to doing so. Given that the forum is a part of that, there's an importance in keeping it tied to that.

Third, there were some issues that we raised in terms of the content of the forum that we wanted to give more time to. And it was scheduled for the first part of December, so it was a timing factor as well. But there's no big scandal there.

Q But there's some that are saying that some of the administration officials were upset because they were not involved with the run up of this when, indeed, they were involved with going to Africa with the President and going on their own. And speaking of Secretary Slater, is that true that he was not involved and there was some conflict about his lack of involvement in this conference?

MS. SMITH: I'm unaware of any conflict on that point. Secretary Slater has been one of our most prominent members of the administration in reaching out to Africa and I'm completely unaware of anything in that regard.

Q Thank you.

MS. SMITH: Thank you very much.

END 1:55 P.M. EST