Burundi + 5 more

White House Background Briefing on the Africa Summit Feb. 17

Format
News and Press Release
Source
Posted
Originally published
AIDS in Africa, Clinton/Moi meeting, Zimbabwe, Congo, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, exports/imports, Sudan, Angola, Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Mandela, Burundi
Senior Administration Officials briefed at the White House on the Africa Summit.

Following is the White House transcript:

(begin transcript)

THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary

February 17, 2000

PRESS BRIEFING BY A SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ON AFRICA SUMMIT

The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

2:25 P.M. EST

MR. FALLIN: Is everyone here for the background brief? This is that brief and, again, I will reiterate this is ON BACKGROUND as senior administration officials. Obviously, off camera. But before we go further, let me also take this opportunity to welcome your colleagues who happen to be listening from the continent of Africa. We have them wired in. And, although they won't be able to ask questions, I want to be able to take an opportunity to welcome them.

Q: We all do.

MR. FALLIN: Good. With that as an opening remark, let me also point to the President's speech today. I think it was an extremely well-received speech by the President in which he articulated his strong feelings about furthering our partnership with the continent of Africa. And, with that, I think we will just go to questions.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Good afternoon, which is what I believe it is.

Q: I wonder if I could start by asking about the President's comments about controlling the spread of AIDS in Africa. He spoke about the cultural and religious factors that make it difficult to tackle this issue. He said that we have to get over our hangups or problems with respect to that. What specifically was he referring to? Is he talking about sexual behavior and conduct among African people? Is he talking about sexual education in Africa?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think in many of the same ways that we've seen here in the United States, talking about HIV/AIDS prevention, which entails talking about behavior and all kinds of difficult issues, can often be difficult for religious or cultural reasons, or just because people are not inclined to talk about those issues in wide public fora. And I think his point, which went over extremely well, was that the hardest thing an adult can live through in life is to see the death of his or her child, and that if, indeed, the children of Africa are at risk of losing their lives to this disease, it is necessary that, despite the difficulties and the impediments that may exist to talking about some issues, that we all must do it in order to save the future of those children.

And I will say that across the board with African government officials and African private citizens present at the summit, his message absolutely resonated and I think there was total agreement with what he said.

Q: Is there a resistance among African people to having -- against unprotected sex, or difficulty in stopping people from engaging in unprotected sex, I guess, is what I mean.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Again, I think changing behavior in Africa is no different than changing behavior anywhere else. And we have certainly learned and are still learning that it is a constant process of education. Now, one of the other factors in Africa is that the access to, whether it's the medical equipment that is needed to test or condoms or other things, is less available than it is, say, in the United States. So it is also a question of access.

Q: What did the President say to President Moi in his meeting after the speech?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They talked about a range of issues. President Moi talked about what he has been doing and what he hopes to do for Kenya to be a stable country in the future. They talked about corruption. They talked about Kenya's economic situation. They talked about the reform of the civil service. But they also talked about a number of other regional issues.

President Moi raised some of his concerns about conflicts in the Horn of Africa and more broadly across the continent. We also thanked him for the contribution that Kenya is making to the peacekeeping operation in Sierra Leone.

Q: Where was the meeting? What was the setting?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The meeting was maybe 30 minutes, a little bit longer, and it was in a meeting room at the Washington Convention Center, set up by the summit.

Q: Now, it was suggested that the President gave him a stern tongue-lashing. What's your characterization of it?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think it was a frank and cordial exchange.

Q: Did the President send the message that it's business as usual with Africa? Because during the Cold War, we were willing to overlook some of the behavior by Mobutu Sese Seko and, given Kenya's track record on corruption and abuse of human rights, you're basically saying, well, we're going to overlook that because you're helping out in the Horn of Africa.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, no, no, I don't think that's the message at all and we certainly haven't overlooked it. We have been extremely frank in public and in private with the government of Kenya about our concerns for many years now, including on the economic front and on the political front.

By the same token, when a government such as that in Kenya takes the steps that they've taken, for example, to appoint Richard Leakey the head of the Civil Service and to start a fairly arduous task of tackling corruption, that's, in fact, the kind of thing that we want to encourage.

Q: Would the U.S. also be willing to talk about some of the problems in other African countries? I'm thinking specifically in Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe still says he's going to confiscate farmland without compensation. Clearly, this is annoying the IMF. I mean, is the U.S. going to point to these specific issues and say, this is not right?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The U.S. already is doing that. I would say that across Africa, we have extremely frank relationships with all governments, and those and other issues in Zimbabwe are a matter of regular discourse between our diplomats and the government of Zimbabwe.

Q: It doesn't really seem to enter the public realm.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, we have made public statements. It was not mentioned this morning, although there were mentions by administration officials, of the referendum that took place in Zimbabwe last weekend, and the importance of the fact that people voted according to their views and that the government has recognized that vote, which, in fact, was a defeat for the government. But that was referenced by several administration officials in their comments.

Q: Did President Clinton ask President Moi for any specific steps on corruption, on the economy, and what were they?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: President Moi himself spoke about his own efforts and the things he wishes to do in the next couple of years on Kenya. And President Clinton strongly encouraged him to take those steps and to move Kenya in a direction so that its ability to function within the rest of the region as a stable both economy and a peaceful country is enhanced.

Q: Can you say what those steps were? What are we actually talking about here?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, there are a number of things. They have taken steps on civil service reform, and we encouraged that more of those need to be taken; that some of the issues that the IMF has raised, that it's important that the right direction be followed. We did not go into great detail of each specific step. It was not a terribly long meeting and it was much more a general meeting on the direction Kenya is going and the direction that we hope President Moi will take it.

Q: In his speech, the President talked about the importance of the U.S. paying for this U.N. peace monitoring force in the Congo. What are you hearing? What kind of support does that have right now in the Congress? How much will it cost and what's the outlook for it?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We notified Congress, I believe, on the seventh, earlier this month, and have done a great deal of consultation with members of Congress about the importance of this operation. I think we are finding that there is understanding on the Hill of the importance of this operation, some good questions being asked by members of Congress about how the operation will indeed work. I can get you the figure on our estimated cost of what our shared would be.

Q: It was just estimated at $40 million in the last briefing.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, that sounds --

Q: But, no, it would not be U.S. troops? It would --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, U.S. troops will not be involved.

Q: -- be observers? What kind of involvement of U.S. personnel?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: At this point we have no plans for any involvement of U.S. personnel.

Q: What would the money go for? Is it simply to pay for operations by others, or is it logistical support --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's a U.N. peacekeeping operation, and so that it goes towards that entire observer mission.

Q: But with no involvement of U.S. personnel in any way -- transport, logistics, intelligence, whatever?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: U.S. troops are not envisioned to be participating in this.

Q: In the President's speech at the Convention Center today, he didn't seem to make too many direct references to Rwanda, but he did say, we no longer have the choice not to know, we only have the choice now whether to act or not to act. I asked David this just before -- I mean, is Rwanda the single, greatest regret of his presidency? Do you happen to know?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think the President spoke very eloquently about Rwanda when he went there in 1998. And what he said at the time was that the international community failed to do what it might have done in the case of Rwanda. And, obviously, that is something that everybody in the international community should regret.

I would just add I think, more importantly, is that there are lessons from Rwanda -- whether it be in terms of very closely monitoring events, raising some of the difficult issues that lead to that kind of conflict and massacres, or, in the case of Sierra Leone and Congo, doing everything we can to help implement and consolidate peace agreements, so that the conflicts that give rise to that level of violence are brought under control.

Q: If a similar situation arose tomorrow, do you think knowing those lessons that you keep hearing about, that you'd be able to intervene -- forget the international community, let's talk about the United States of America.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm not going to say what exactly we will do or would do if a similar situation arose tomorrow. But I believe that certainly, if there is another such tragedy in Africa, that we will strongly urge that the international community do what it can to prevent it.

Q: This might be for your colleague, on trade, I guess. The President called on Congress to get him that trade bill by the end of next month, I believe he said. What's the administration's sense of the outlook of that actually happening? And what is the administration doing to try and persuade the congressional Republicans to get him that bill?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, we remain very optimistic about the prospects for passage. The President has been very involved, as -- all the Cabinet members have been very engaged with members of Congress. There appears to be a lot of optimism on the Hill. So I think that we will see a bill. I feel very strongly about that.

Q: Would the President sign a bill that I guess would include this issue where African exports would have to use, I guess, American imports of textiles? Would the President support a bill with that provision?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think there are a range of options that are being discussed. And I think people are very pleased with the options that are now being discussed. I think that there is just broad consensus that we should have a commercially viable bill, and I think that people on the Hill, as well as the administration, are very pleased with the direction of the discussions.

Q: But you can't say, rule in or out if the President could sign a bill with that included?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think that there hasn't been an agreement. I think that is something that we'll know in conference what the final outcome will look like on the textile and apparel provision.

Q: Why has it taken so long to get this bill?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't know if I would say it's taking a very long time. I mean, our founding fathers certainly didn't make it easy to get legislation passed. I think that from the meetings that I've had and the consultations I've had on the Hill, there has been a lot of work done in terms of meetings, consultations, Senate and House discussions. And I think that we're in recess now, so that's one delay. But I think that we're on schedule to get this passed.

Q: On schedule, you mean --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I mean by, I would hope -- it's hard to predict, but I would hope that we can get a bill passed by March or April.

Q: You said the President regrets not taking action in Rwanda, but there are a number of places in Africa where bloody civil wars are taking place right now and, yet, the U.S. doesn't seem to take action -- in the Sudan, Angola. Why not do something more forceful if there is this true sense of regret?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: But I think it's important to go into some definition of what "taking action" means. The United States has been extremely actively involved in trying to get a resolution of the war in Sudan, and has been extremely outspoken on the issues of human rights that underlie that conflict. We're working very closely with the intergovernmental authority on development, which is leading a regional process.

And I think in each situation one has to look at the conditions on the ground. One has to look at what the regional players are doing, as well, and how to work with them and see what kind of action or intervention is most appropriate.

Q: I guess I'm just a little bit skeptical because, I mean, for instance, in Angola we've had the civil war go on for 30 years. Imean, if the U.S. is taking action, it seems to take a while for it to take effect.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The United States was very involved in the process of the Lusaka Accords that were in place in Angola. They have not held.

We have continued, both through the Bilateral Consultative Commission and in partnership with the United Nations, countries of the sub-region, to try to craft ways that that conflict can indeed be resolved. But I don't think that one automatically looks at intervention in each of these cases as a solution.

Q: During the President's meetings at the summit, did it come up about the President being invited to come back to visit Africa? And how strong of a possibility is it that he could do that before --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It did not come up, and we'll see.

Q: But it's accurate the President wants to make another visit to Africa before the end of his term?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I am sure he would love to.

Q: There was another event yesterday, a signing in the Indian Treaty Room. Are you going to review that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. On yesterday, the United States Trade Representative and the Vice President of Nigeria signed a trade investment framework agreement which is another landmark agreement that we have concluded with Sub-Saharan African countries since President Clinton made the announcement in 1997 about his Partnership for Growth and Opportunity in Africa Initiative.

And this is an agreement that we now have with both Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa. And we've also concluded a bilateral investment treaty with Mozambique. So this was a very good day yesterday for U.S.-Africa relations, particularly with Nigeria, our second largest trading partner in the region.

Q: We looked backward; let's look forward.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let's look forward. Next Tuesday, we will be doing something unique and we certainly hope very constructive. Former South African President Nelson Mandela, as you may know, agreed when requested by leaders of the region, to take over mediation of the peace process in Burundi. And he initiated his mediation efforts in January.

The peace talks which have been going on for a couple of years now, formerly led by Julius Nyerere, the former President of Tanzania, who died in October, have taken place in Arusha, Tanzania. And next Tuesday, the President will join Nelson Mandela through a satellite live video hookup at President Mandela's event to open up the next round of negotiations in the Burundi process. So on the Arusha side, we will have representatives of the Burundian parties and President Mandela, very possibly other African leaders, communicating directly with President Clinton here, and he to them.

Q: Is it going to be substantive? I mean, is he going to communicate with them? Is he going to take part in negotiations, or is it just a greeting?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He will not take part in the negotiations themselves. These are extremely complex negotiations. And, in fact, after a couple of days during which President Mandela will be present, there will be far more intensive negotiations undertaken in Arusha.

This is something that President Mandela asked the President to do to convey to the parties in Burundi that the international community does care and stand with them in their efforts to come to an agreement in what is truly a very tragic and painful conflict. There may be some back-and-forth between President Clinton and President Mandela. But it will be live.

Q: I don't mean to be a pain about this, but --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's all right. (Laughter.) I used to be a journalist, so I know how to be painful, too. Please.

Q: Going back to the Rwanda situation, once the killing began in Rwanda, the only conceivable way of stopping it would have been direct intervention on the ground. And the President said, we should have done something. And I am just going back again -- and we talked about Angola. For 30 years, these people have been involved in a bloody civil war. The only way you're going to really stop that civil war is through direct intervention. What is different now than it was --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think a number of things are different. Rwanda was a case of genocide. Now, across Africa you have a number of conflicts -- Sierra Leone, Angola, Sudan, the Congo. And I am certainly not convinced that the best way to resolve those conflicts is to intervene militarily.

Q: How else do you expect to have an effect on these conflicts?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, look at the fact that, however complex, there has been an agreement reached in Sierra Leone; there has been a cease-fire agreement reached among seven countries in the case of the Congo. We believe that that is a very, very significant step forward and that provides the basis for trying to, if you will, put things back together.

We were quite involved in both cases, but not unilaterally. We worked with the countries of ECOWAS, in the case of Sierra Leone, with SADC and their northern neighbors in the case of the Congo cease-fire agreement, to help them forge an agreement that could be the basis for resolving these conflicts. And I think that has been an enormous contribution and something that we will absolutely continue to do in the case of other conflicts.

Q: Do you regard it as a cynical point of view that we heard from some quarters during the Kosovo intervention that the reason we intervened in Kosovo was because of the color of the skin of people who were being slaughtered, and that the reason we didn't intervene in Rwanda was because of the color of the skin of the people being slaughtered there? Did you hear such things said, and what do you say to that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I read the newspapers, and I think it is a cynical view. I think the reason for the intervention in Kosovo is because of what was happening on the ground. And I think, again, no one has spoken more eloquently than the President on what happened in Rwanda in 1994. And he went to Kigali to do it. And I think the task at hand now is to take the lessons from that period and look forward.

Q: Thank you.

END

2:43 P.M. EST

(end transcript)

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