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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 15, 1999
                            PRESS BRIEFING

                           The Briefing Room

12:55 P.M. EST

MR. HAMMER: Well, today we are here to hear a briefing on the U.S.-Africa Ministerial Partnership for the 21st Century, which begins tomorrow. We have Gayle Smith, Senior Director for African Affairs here at the National Security Council; Susan Rice, Assistant Secretary for African Affairs at the Department of State; Rosa Whitaker, Assistant Trade Representative at USTR, a position created by this administration; and we have Rick Samans, of the National Economic Council.

We'll begin this with both Gayle and Susan making some remarks. Gayle will give you a broad picture of the policy and Susan will focus on the actual schedule and arrangements for the ministerial.

MS. SMITH: Thank you and good afternoon. We're quite pleased to be able to brief you today on the African Ministerial Partnership for the 21st Century, which will begin tomorrow at the State Department.

It's no coincidence that this ministerial takes place almost exactly one year following the President's trip to Africa. As you know, on that trip he highlighted that he wanted to forge a new partnership between the United States and Africa. That is a goal we continue to pursue, including through this ministerial and a number of steps taken between the trip and this conference.

As you're aware, there are two primary policy goals that guide the formation of this partnership. Those include working with Africa to accelerate its integration into the global economy through a number of means, including supporting growth and development through aid, trade and investment; continued support for democratization and combined efforts to resolve conflicts.

Our second policy goal is working together to combat transnational threats, whether these be terrorism, drug trafficking, HIV-AIDS, or a host of other things.

In both of these policy goals we believe strongly, as we believe the ministerial will show, that it is in our interest as well as Africa's interest to work together on these. In the intervening year since the President traveled to Africa, we've put in place a number of initiatives that were announced on the trip, including the education initiative, the food security initiative, the Great Lakes justice initiative, transportation-safe skies initiative, the groundwork laid for the formation of the African Center for Securities Studies, increased assistance to Radio Democracy, measures to relieve additional debt in Africa, the creation of an OPIC investment fund.

A number of Cabinet officials have traveled to Africa in the last year, each of them taking with them a fundamental piece of this partnership and taking it further.

What I'd like to do now is to ask Susan Rice to please brief you on the specifics of the ministerial, which again begins tomorrow at the State Department. And I hope we will all see you there. And then we will happily take your questions.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICE: Let me begin by telling you a little bit about this ministerial. It is rather historic and it's definitely unprecedented. For the first time ever, we have invited ministers from 46 of 48 Sub-Saharan African countries to Washington. We've invited foreign ministers, trade ministers, and finance ministers, as well as the African ambassadors here in Washington. So each country will have a delegation of up to four people able to talk about a broad spectrum of issues of mutual concern.

Q Who didn't you invite?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICE: The two that were not invited were Somalia and Sudan. We've also invited the ambassadors of four North African countries who will be active participants as well in this ministerial.

The purpose of the session which will extend over three days in the broadest sense is to assess where we are in this rather new U.S.-Africa partnership, what is working, where cooperation is successful, where it perhaps can be enhanced, but most importantly, to talk together for the first time about where we want to go from here, what we can cooperate on in our mutual interest to further this partnership in the 21st century.

We will have an also unprecedented representation of American officials. President Clinton will address the opening plenary session, as will Secretary Albright. Also at that opening plenary session will be addresses by the OAU Secretary General Salim, the U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, and the Foreign Minister of Burkina Faso, speaking on behalf of the African ministers present. Burkina Faso is the current chair of the OAU.

Throughout the several-day session, eight Cabinet secretaries will participate in active discussions, as will four U.S. agency heads. I'll give you a sense of the types of topics they'll be engaged in. In each of the discussions following the opening plenary, we intend to get into a serious give-and-take on a range of substantive issues, and I'll walk you through those.

This is not meant to be a series of set speeches and a lot of formal discussion; rather, it's meant to be as informal, free-flowing and give-and-take as we can, with each session, as I said, being aimed at charting a way forward. Out of the ministerial will come not only a communique, as is customary, but a blueprint document, which is designed to bring together the African and American perspectives on the range of issues that have been discussed. It will not areas of agreement and areas where they may not yet be agreement, and will indicate the way forward as we see it.

So I might just talk you through, very briefly, some of the working sessions that will be on the agenda. As Gayle said, the actual work begins tomorrow, it will continue all day Wednesday and half a day on Thursday. There will be an opening session on the economic partnership between the United States and Africa with, as in all the panels, senior representation from African ministers or African regional organizations, and on the U.S. side, the Secretary of Commerce, the U.S. Trade Representative, the USAID Administrator and the Secretary of Transportation.

We will have roundtable on the multilateral training session, chaired on the U.S. side by Ambassador Barshefsky, and at the same time a session on democracy and human rights chaired by Secretary Albright. We will have sessions on agribusiness, chaired by Secretary Glickman, a session on HIV/AIDS, chaired on the U.S. side by Sandy Thurman, the White House AIDS Policy Director; a session on energy, the environment and the economy, chaired by Secretary Richardson on the U.S. side; a session on building infrastructure, which is of great importance to our African counterparts, this will be chaired by Secretary Slater on the U.S. side, with representation from the Chairman of the Export-Import Bank, the President of OPIC and the Director of the Trade and Development Agency.

We will have further sessions on conflict resolution, on regional integration, on microenterprise, on good governance, on attracting capital to Africa in the context of today's financial markets -- that will be a session chaired by Secretary Rubin; on telecommunications information in the economy, chaired by the U.S. Chairman of the FCC, William Kennard; a session on human capacity development, education and the like; and a session on the generalized system of preferences arrangements.

The program will wrap up on Thursday with a half-day, morning spent on the Hill with members of Congress and the ministers talking about other, broader aspects of the U.S.-Africa partnership, and will close with a plenary session midday on Thursday.

Happy to take your questions.

Q I don't know where to begin.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICE: I'm sure you'll find a place.

Q A range of subjects you'll be discussing -- do you have a few that are the major ones that you think the conference will settle on?

MS. SMITH: One of the things to note, we've worked very closely in the planning and organization of this conference, both through our embassies in the field, with governmental counterparts there, and through the African diplomatic corps here. So we have tried in each of these to identify the priority issues under each heading, if you will. And we do expect that, obviously, on as broad a topic as energy and the environment we will be able to narrow the discussion so that it is specific and precise, as opposed to just the broad issues.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICE: Let me just add to that. One of the things that I think is fairly remarkable in the wake of the President's trip is the breadth of our engagement with Africa on this whole range of issues. The Cabinet Secretaries who are participating in this ministerial have virtually all spent substantive time with their African counterparts and have made follow-up trips themselves in the wake of the President's trip to Africa, and they are very much into the nuts and bolts with their African counterparts on how we enhance cooperation in things like agribusiness and things like energy and telecommunications.

So that is, in fact, where we are now. We're past simply the vision, we're into roll up our sleeves and let's figure out where we go from here.

Q What about the burning issues now like the war in Sierra Leone and the use of children and armies there? Will this be a place where you can address that issue in specific and other sorts of hot diplomatic issues?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICE: Yes. There's no doubt that this will be an opportunity to discuss the issues of the day and, obviously, the issues of the day include many of the very violent and destabilizing conflicts that are underway in Africa. There will be a lengthy session on conflict resolution, which will involve U.S. participants as well as the OAU Secretary General Salim Salim. That will provide a specific venue for this kind of discussion. But anytime you have ministers of this caliber from the United States and any other countries -- in this case, Africa -- in one place, you can be assured that there will be a range of bilateral sessions, both between the U.S. and our African counterparts, and among the African participants themselves where these issues will be very much worked.

So it will come up both in the formal sessions and on the margins, because obviously, while the focus of this partnership conference is on our long-term cooperation and our long-term interests, we can't get there from here without paying important attention to the issues of the day.

Q Did I hear you say that only Sudan and Somalia will not be there? So Libya will be?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICE: No, no. Sudan and Somalia, of the 48 Sub-Saharan African countries, four North African countries. No, Libya will not be there.

Q Why not? No diplomatic relations, is that the problem?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICE: We have no diplomatic relations with Libya. Somalia is without a central government, and we have a very difficult and complicated relationship with the government of Sudan, giving its active support for terrorism, and we thought it inappropriate --

Q And the bombing of Sudan.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICE: We thought it inappropriate because of Sudan's position on the terrorist list to invite them.

Q Well, you carefully said 46 had been invited. Does that suggest that some aren't coming that were invited, or do you think all of them --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICE: We expect representation from virtually all of those 46 countries. We may have one or two of the smaller states or the island states unable to send a ministerial delegation.

Q No money?


Q Which North African countries then?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICE: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt.

Q Specifically, will there be a chance for some sort of pull-aside or some special focus on Congo, Rwanda, Uganda in this setting?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICE: As I said in response to the earlier question, there will be lots of discussion both in the actual session on conflict resolution and, I imagine, throughout a number of the sessions on the specific conflicts of the day, including those. Also in bilateral meetings which Gayle and I and others of more senior rank will be involved on the margins of this. These issues will undoubtedly be important focuses.

Q And is President Clinton himself, personally, interested in being in on a session with Congo, Uganda, Rwanda, of some sort of special focus? Because he mentioned when President Rawlings was in town that he wants to see a peaceful resolution in that area.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICE: The President has been, and remains very active in support of our efforts to work with the region on a reservation. And we have, so that meetings -- said on the bilateral side on a number of these -- Sierra Leone, Eritrea, Congo, which will include high-level officials with the President's full support.

Q On tomorrow, though, how much of it will be personally be involved with?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICE: I don't know that he will personally be involved in the meetings themselves, but he has been, as I say, very supportive of our efforts to move forward on that score and is following it very closely.

Q When the President traveled last year, a lot of analysts were saying that the proof of U.S. commitment to Africa would be in the Africa trade bill. How do you all see that piece fitting in with all of the things you're going to be talking about?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICE: The African Growth and Opportunity Act, as you know, is something that we remain strongly committed to. And as the President mentioned in his State of the Union Address, we will work very hard to get it passed during this session of Congress.

It's a fundamental element of a comprehensive approach. Our belief is that if we are to support Africa's acceleration into the global economy and to foster development and economic growth, that it's necessary to work on three fronts: aid, trade and investment. And the African Growth and Opportunity Act obviously is the best vehicle for working the trade side of that equation, because it is really the first thing that will allow us for the first time in history to create a framework for U.S.-Africa trade relations.

MS. SMITH: Can I just add to that, that the African Growth and Opportunity Act is vitally important, but it's not the sum total of our efforts to enhance our cooperation and our partnership with Africa. The number of initiatives that Gayle outlined at the outset are an important element of our broader relationship with Africa. They are not contingent upon passage of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, and we are grateful that they have been well-supported and well-funded by Congress up to now, and we hope that that will continue.

Q -- been languishing for a year now. Why is that? Was it a badly-written piece of legislation, or has there just not been a commitment from the administration?

MS. SMITH: Neither. It is a good piece of legislation, we believe it's well crafted, it sailed through the House of Representatives last year and was not able to get through the Senate. We hope very much it will get through the House in the near term this year and that there will be greater time on the schedule and fewer distractions that will enable the legislation to get through the Senate.

Q The thrust of his speech tomorrow -- what will his message be?

MS. SMITH: I think is message will be to underscore that this partnership is a substantive and serious one. He will highlight the issues that we consider the most important in terms of paving the way forward, reference a number of things that have been done thus far, and I think give us a very good foundation for some serious and substantive discussions over the following two days.

Q And the most important issues for moving forward that he'll mention will be what?

MS. SMITH: I think what additional can be done, again, on all those three levels -- the aid, trade and investment, and what is being done.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 1:12 P.M. EST