THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Abuja, Nigeria) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release August 26, 2000 PRESS BRIEFING BY SENIOR DIRECTOR FOR AFRICAN AFFAIRS GAYLE SMITH AND ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR AFRICAN AFFAIRS SUSAN RICE Nicon Hilton Abuja, Nigeria
5:45 P.M. (L)
MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon. We've had a very successful first day in the President's visit to Nigeria, and we have our dynamic duo of African affairs here to give you a read out. Gayle Smith, the Senior Director for African Affairs for the National Security Council; and Dr. Susan Rice, the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs.
MS. SMITH: Good afternoon. We're definitely a duo; I don't know how dynamic we are -- we've had about as much sleep as you all have. But, as PJ says, it's been a truly remarkable and very successful first day. I think the thing that has been the most striking is how far, in fact, our bilateral relationship has come in just over a year, both in terms of scope and depth.
President Clinton and President Obasanjo met several times today; first, in a smaller meeting, where a number of issues were discussed, including the issue of Nigeria's debt, whereas I believe you know we have been in the forefront of efforts within the G-8 to push for a generous rescheduling for Nigeria and put out a marker earlier this summer that we would support debt reduction, given a good track record on Nigeria's part.
Nigeria made clear that they very much intend to live up to the obligations they have made in establishing an economic reform program and have every interest in turning their economy around.
They spent a fair amount of time discussing regional issues. Certainly, Sierra Leone was near the top of the list, given events there. Indeed, they discussed in some length the train and equip program which, as you know, started this week. I think significant there has been our ability to shorten the time period during which those five battalions can be fully trained. The Nigerians certainly appreciate that and they made very clear that they greatly appreciate the emphasis we have put on very rightly in the President's view, their significant leadership role in the region on peacekeeping.
They discussed Liberia and the effects on the wider region of the policies and behavior of President Charles Taylor, and also Cote d'Ivoire, whereas the President remarked in the National Assembly Nigeria and South Africa were the first in the world to condemn that coup. Nigeria and the United States share a concern which the two Presidents discussed about upcoming plans for the election there and the implications for potentially greater instability in Cote d'Ivoire if things are not managed well.
They moved into an expanded meeting, which included our members of Cabinet and senior representatives from other U.S. government agencies; I think, again, indicative of the fact that we now have 24 U.S. government agencies engaged with Nigeria. There, they discussed a number of issues, including Open Skies and what has been significantly expanded cooperation on aviation, the resumption of direct flights last week. I believe the Open Skies agreement is being signed right now by Secretary Slater.
They spent a fair amount of time also on agriculture. From President Obasanjo's point of view, agriculture is one of the sectors that he wants to rehabilitate as quickly as possible, both to meet local food needs, but also to diversify an economy which is presently highly dependent on oil.
They agreed to some cooperation in the area of biotechnology, and indeed, we will be doing a regional conference with the Nigerians later this year, and also discussed Nigeria's participation in our new initiative on school lunches and making at least one nutritional meal available per day to school children with the aim of expanding primary enrollment.
The fight against AIDS was another theme of discussion. President Obasanjo, as you know, has agreed to host a summit after the first of the year. President Clinton thanked him for that leadership. President Obasanjo made very clear that he intends to spend a great deal of time on that issue, both domestically and across the continent.
There were several other issues discussed including cooperation on counternarcotics, where Nigeria has made progress. There's still a fair amount of work to do and we will work with them to do that.
I think, all in all, I will turn to Susan here to talk about some of the specifics of some of the new things we've agreed to. We felt we had every sign that the Nigerians felt that it was, again, a very productive first day. And I think perhaps the most exciting thing for us is that this was not a discussion between two Presidents who were just beginning a relationship, but two Presidents who clearly have an established relationship. They met shortly after President Obasanjo was elected, again in October. And as I say, in the just over one year since this government was inaugurated, we have been able to establish significant cooperation across a wide range of sectors.
Susan, if you would like to go through some of the announcements. And then we will take your questions.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICE: I feel shorter than usual. Good afternoon. I don't have a great deal to add to what Gayle's already said. I just want to give you a little bit more texture on the extent to which this visit has served to broaden and deepen our relationship with Nigeria.
Gayle mentioned we've got 24 U.S. government agencies actively involved in various kinds of partnership relationships with Nigeria -- that's fairly extraordinary. We have come a very long way in a short period of time. Two years ago, we had nothing to do with the government of Nigeria. We had $7 million of assistance coming into the country, most of it -- all of it, in fact, excuse me -- going through NGOs for programs in population and health.
Over the last two fiscal years, we have increased our assistance to Nigeria to almost $109 million. That's quite a substantial increase. And President Clinton has brought with him substantial additional assistance in this trip, and you'll be hearing about it in detail, not only today, but tomorrow, as well.
He has brought an additional approximately $20 million worth of development and technical assistance; and then, of course, the value of the peacekeeping equipping and training effort, which is approximately $42 million. Altogether, it's about $170 million bilateral cooperative relationship, which is quite substantial by global standards, and by standards in Africa more than double, close to triple -- actually, it is probably triple our largest bilateral relationship after Nigeria.
If I might just give you a little bit of a sense of some of the areas of the cooperation. The President mentioned health, HIV/AIDS, malaria and polio. We'll hear more about that tomorrow. Education, information technology, the establishment of community-based resource centers in each of Nigeria's six major regions, efforts to help Nigeria develop its agriculture sector, including through a combination of food aid for monetized development projects, but also cooperation in developing tropical agriculture, biotechnology and a full range of technical assistance in that sphere -- democracy and governance, support for trade and investment, and of course, I think quite significantly, President Clinton's announcement at the National Assembly today that he will ask the Peace Corps to return to Nigeria.
It is, therefore, been from our perspective, a fantastic day in terms of demonstrating the scope of our ability to work with Nigeria, a country that we consider increasingly an essential partner for the United States as we pursue our shared interests, not only in Africa, but around the world.
On the private sector side -- you'll hear more about this tomorrow -- but President Clinton and President Obasanjo, as Gayle said, talked about the necessity of attracting increased investment to Nigeria and expanding our bilateral trade. And to that end, the Export-Import Bank will be guaranteeing private sector loans here in Nigeria that will be consummated during this trip, worth up to $1.2 billion. The Trade and Development Agency will be funding a number of feasibility studies, the potential value of which is in the hundreds of millions of dollars should those projects come through. So this is a multifaceted relationship involving our private sector, our governments, our non-governmental sectors. And we are very enthusiastic about the potential for its long-term development.
We're happy to take your questions. Thank you.
Q Do you have more details on what they discussed, on what President Obasanjo and President Clinton discussed about Sierra Leone and Liberia, on exactly what the concerns were that they shared in their session?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICE: Well, as you know, the issue of Sierra Leone and how we can work with the Nigerian government and the West African subregion to bring lasting peace and stability has been a constant theme in our discussions over the last several months.
Today, the focus was on two things. One, how to go about accelerating our shared efforts to beef up the U.N. force to our train and equip program, how to accelerate that and how to put it in place to provide a forceful military component to the larger strategy of assisting the government of Sierra Leone to regain control over all of its territory and all of its resources.
Secondly, they talked about some of the actors that stand in the way of achieving that goal, players inside Sierra Leone and in the subregion, and affirmed their interest in working together with other constructive leaders in the region to bolster the peace in Sierra Leone and limit the influence of those who may wish to create more difficulties.
Q (Inaudible) --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICE: Well, on Liberia, we have a shared concern about the role that Liberia has played in Sierra Leone in arms trafficking and diamond smuggling. And that's an issue about which we have been very vocal in recent weeks and months and it remains a very serious shared concern.
Q The U.S. Congress recently passed the trade and Equal Opportunity Act. On like Asia, the African countries have not been able to take advantage of this trade act. Could you please have offer some reasons why you think that most African countries have not been able to take a good opportunity of this act?
MS. SMITH: That's a fairly simple answer with what I hope will be a good reply for you. The bill was just passed and we then go through a statutory process of implementing it. So it will not go into effect until the first part of October, at which point the African countries will be able to take advantage of the benefits.
Q On the debt relief, in Okinawa the G-8 members said that they were hoping to basically accelerate poor countries' access to debt relief by encouraging them to do more to restructure their economies, but it didn't actually speak about additional money being provided by the G-8 countries, it was more of we're going to work with them to get the process moving more quickly. Is there something more than that that the President was committing to today?
MS. SMITH: Let me say a couple of things on that. I think that what was evident at the G-8 and what the G-8 countries are very focused on now is being able to implement the enhanced HPIC initiative, which is the funding that we've requested so that we can fulfill our obligations within the multilateral organizations.
Now, if you look at where the international community started on debt, this is truly a significant initiative, and it's our very strong view that we've got to make every effort to get that underway, because it will both deepen and broaden relief and render it more swift.
In the context of Nigeria, the discussion was focused on, again, this issue of now that Nigeria is in a position to reorganize an economy which has been fundamentally distorted by misrule for such a long time, and also to start diversifying it, that we will, assuming a good performance and a good track record established over the next year, seriously look at reduction for Nigeria.
Q Reduction beyond which they would have already qualified for under the enhanced HPIC --
MS. SMITH: No. Nigeria is not a HPIC country. The HPIC initiative applies to the poorest countries and the most heavily indebted. And, obviously, while Nigeria has an enormous debt and if you look at social and economic indicators, one could certainly make the case that poverty is an acute problem. The HPIC initiative deals with a set of countries that have, quite frankly, statistics that are even worse when you look at social indicators and the level of indebtedness.
Q Is Nigeria on the same footing as some of those other HPIC countries -- they start to move ahead and they start to get relief as they move ahead with reform?
MS. SMITH: It looks at Nigeria being engaged in a process which could and should lead to reduction, yes.
Q What's your latest understanding of what the President's going to be witness to in Tanzania? Will there be any kind of agreement signed, or is it going to go past the deadline that Mandela has set?
MS. SMITH: President Clinton is going to Arusha in support of President Mandela, as you all know. President Mandela is in Arusha now. For the last several days he has been meeting with the Burundian parties, and he is doing so in Arusha today and tomorrow. And obviously, he will take it as far as he believes that he can.
We are very much looking at the stop in Arusha as a way to support the process and President Mandela's leadership of it, but also to, with him, consolidate the progress that has been achieved thus far. If you look at the overall agreement, which I think it's probably better to describe as a framework, there has been considerable agreement made over the last year, and prior to that by President Nyerere. There are outstanding issues, but there are people sitting in the same room talking today which a year ago they wouldn't have even thought of sitting in the same room and talking.
So we hope that that agreement can be consolidated. If it can be move further, fine; but President Clinton's purpose in going vis a vis the Burundians is very much to send a message that they have made progress, we support that progress, that the violence needs to end, and that we recognize that this is a very, very long-term proposition.
Q It is not yet known whether the agreement will be done by Monday?
MS. SMITH: The level to which they will have full agreement will be the outcome of President Mandela's meetings. But I would underscore something here, which is that the progress that has been made thus far I think is, in our view, extremely positive. So if they're able to get further, great; if they maintain it where they are, again, if you look at where this has come from, the progress has been marked. But the other side is also true. This will not be fully resolved by next week, or next month, or even next year. It's a very complex conflict and it's going to take a great deal of time to unravel it.
Q Returning to Nigeria, can you expand further on the U.S.'s plans for support money and the like regarding HIV/AIDS programs?
MS. SMITH: Yes, and the President will go into that in more detail tomorrow. There are a number of areas where we are involved with Nigeria and the HIV/AIDS side, and I'll just go through a few of them. Out of our LIFE initiative, Leadership In Fighting an Epidemic, we provide -- are providing $9.25 million for this fiscal year. That's for prevention and education.
We also have new initiatives underway on the military side, for example, to look at AIDS prevention there, and also dealing with some of the other diseases that are opportunistic infections or diseases that compact with AIDS to, in fact, increase the death rate, both malaria and poverty. I think that we will see a great deal more engagement both by the government, but also by NGOs, foundations, and others on this issue, given the willingness of the Nigerians to really do what they need to do to educate and prevent.
But if you will, I'll let the President speak to that tomorrow when we have an event in the afternoon, specifically on this subject.
Q Can you give us more of an idea as to what to expect to come out of tomorrow? I mean, today was more politics, tomorrow is more social issues, or how would you describe it?
MS. SMITH: I think if you look at the events tomorrow, in the morning the President will have a very valuable opportunity to talk to Nigerians about their own views of the transition and what their aspirations are. The event midday on HIV/AIDS and infectious diseases, we and the Nigerians believe is extremely important. President Obasanjo has been quite a leader on all three. He just convened a summit earlier this year on Malaria. Malaria is one of the greatest killers on the continent. It is rare, unfortunately, that heads of state, themselves, take on this issue and try to get more done.
He will also assume a leadership role on polio. There will be a major regional initiative to vaccinate against polio later this year, which will be one of the largest public health -- coordinated public health exercises in Africa -- similarly on HIV/AIDS.
But I think also, and importantly, tomorrow there will be an opportunity for the President to meet and speak to Nigerian NGOs and others who are activists in their own right and who are doing the work on the ground to educate others about it.
Tomorrow night, there will be an opportunity to focus on trade and investment. And we've heard and seen ample evidence of the importance of the passage of the Africa trade bill, but also, and I think significantly, we're seeing a renewed interest on the part of our private sector, but also our trade and development agencies as Susan mentioned, like Ex-Im and TDA.
And what we sincerely hope -- and I think we're already seeing the signs, is that Nigeria will be the recipient of greatly increased private investment over the months and years to come.
Q -- how much a year for that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICE: Yes, over 60, as far as we know.
Q A quick question, and then a longer question. The quick question: Is the AIDS conference that Obasanjo committed to, is it announced today -- was that on the plans before?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICE: That is something that he's spoken to a couple of times over the last couple of months, so that wasn't brand new today.
Q And the concern that I've heard expressed among some of the members of the Assembly is that the President is almost finished with his term, he comes with all this enthusiasm for Africa, but what good is it going to do them when he's out of office and who knows what the next President wants. Is there some way that you can address that concern, that all this hoopla might be for nothing?
MS. SMITH: Well, I think both of us would like to take a stab at that. I think what President Clinton has done very effectively has been to make the case for U.S. engagement with Africa, on the clear grounds that it's in our mutual interests.
And in the two years since he made his first trip to Africa, what many of us have been able to do is, if you will, build the institutional architecture to do that. For example, our cooperation with Nigeria, as Susan said, scans 24 agencies. This is ongoing cooperation. And I think we not only believe, but suspect that it will continue because I think the evidence is in that that cooperation is important.
I also think that President Clinton intends to get as much done as he can in the remaining months in office. And there is ample evidence to us that this trip is of great meaning to both us and the Nigerians, in order to both highlight the importance of Nigeria to us, but also to be able to profile what the benefits are to us and Nigeria of this transition and our mutual cooperation around it.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICE: I'd just add to that, that it's not as if President Clinton's focus on Africa began this week. As you well know, it goes back to 1994, when he had the first-ever White House Conference on Africa and he has every year since then put in place a series of initiatives and contacts and engagement which is expanding our relationship with all of Africa.
Nigeria has only been in a position to be the kind of partner we would hope and like it to be for a little over a year. I think in that year we've made a tremendous amount of progress. And, as Gayle said, we've laid an institutional foundation across a broad spectrum of our government and the Nigerian government that we're quite confident will endure, irrespective of the future in the United States. And that's because this is a relationship that's manifestly about our mutual interests and what we can accomplish together.
So I think this is one further step in a series that will inevitably continue. I think Nigeria has a lot to gain from this and so does the United States.
Q A question related to the peacekeeping training that is supposedly going to take place. There's a report today that some British soldiers were taken hostage in Sierra Leone. Do you think -- have you heard anything about that? Does that underscore the need for African countries to handle this? Does it underscore the danger that Western countries face in trying to handle these matters themselves?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICE: The details we have are rather limited on the specific situation of the British soldiers. But it neither sends any particular message about Western involvement in Africa, nor does it call into question any of the significant steps that we've all decided to take together to strengthen the U.N. presence in Sierra Leone. On the contrary; it shows that that there are elements very active in Sierra Leone that are determined to perpetuate instability, and the British have led the way, along with the United Nations, with the support of many others, including the United States and the international community and, of course, Nigeria, to strengthen the international presence in Sierra Leone to diminish the capacity of those who wish to wreak violence and destabilize the situation. So that's an effort that we have to continue now more than ever.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 6:10 P.M. (L)