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Bush Stresses "Habits of Freedom" in African Talks

Bush Stresses "Habits of Freedom" in Talks with West African Leaders

(Leaders emphasize importance of Africans taking leadership on problems)

President Bush had the opportunity July 8 to discuss bilateral issues with Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade as well as regional and international issues with seven other leaders of West African democracies, according to a senior administration official.

In the bilateral meeting, Bush and President Wade discussed terrorism, trade, biotechnology, HIV/AIDS and the Millennium Challenge Account, the official said at a background briefing, and "President Bush emphasized that the best way to fight terror is to support the habits of freedom, and that that was represented in his trip here to West Africa."

The meeting with the other West African leaders touched on many of the same issues, the official said, and "an underlying theme was that all of the leaders emphasized the importance of them taking the leadership, the self-responsibility for addressing these problems in strong partnership with the United States."

Responding to questions, the official said the president reiterated his position that Charles Taylor needs to leave Liberia in order for a return to stability in that country. Specific details of Taylor's departure and U.S. involvement have not been settled, the official said, but the U.S. would be engaged with the Economic Community of West African States and the United Nations in dealing with the crisis.

The leaders Bush met with in addition to President Wade were Presidents Mathieu Kerekou of Benin, Pedro Pires of Cape Verde, Yahya Jammeh of the Gambia, John Kufuor of Ghana, Amadou Toumani Toure of Mali, Mamadou Tandja of Niger and Ahmad Tejan Kabbah of Sierra Leone.

Following is the transcript of the briefing:

(begin transcript)

THE WHITE HOUSE Office of the Press Secretary (Dakar, Senegal) July 8, 2003

BACKGROUND BRIEFING BY A SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ON THE PRESIDENT'S MEETINGS WITH PRESIDENT WADE AND WITH THE LEADERS OF THE WEST AFRICAN DEMOCRACIES

En Route Goree Island, Senegal

MR. FLEISCHER: Good morning. We have a senior administration official to give you a readout on the two meetings the President has had.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you. I'll readout first the bilateral meeting with President Wade, and then, secondly, the larger meeting with the West African democracies.

First, the President expressed his appreciation for President Wade's leadership and acknowledged Senegal's strong democratic record in West Africa. The two leaders spoke about counter-terrorism, and President Bush emphasized that the best way to fight terror is to support the habits of freedom, and that that was represented in his trip here to West Africa.

They also spoke about security in the region, and particularly touched on Liberia. The President restated the need for Charles Taylor to leave Liberia in order to return the country to stability. He also spoke about the United States will participate with the regional leaders in trying to bring about that stability, but the nature of that participation will be based on an assessment that our EUCOM teams are doing now in the region.

The two leaders spoke about trade, the benefits of AGOA, and the President expressed a real concern about African countries reducing trade-distorting subsidies amongst themselves, and also talked about the need for Africans to work with him in the form of the World Trade Organization to reduce all agricultural subsidies, and the requirement for Europe to join in that proposal to reduce agricultural subsidies.

The President talked about the fact that too many Africans are starving unnecessarily and that the technology is available to end the famines across Africa through GMO -- genetically modified [food]. He understood that it was a difficult subject, but he felt that Africa can grow itself out of famine by utilizing science represented in GMO drought-resistant crops and pestilence-resistant crops.

The two leaders talked about HIV/AIDS, the problem of HIV/AIDS in the country. The President mentioned that there are three means by which the United States is trying to help Africa address the pandemic -- one, through its bilateral programs; secondly, through a contribution to the Global Fund, and he emphasized again the need for the European countries to also contribute to the Fund; and third, through its emergency plan, which is really targeted toward those countries that are having the highest prevalence rates, particularly in Southern Africa.

Finally, the President talked about the Millennium Challenge Account and noted that his visit here to Senegal and his meeting with the West African democracies was meant to reflect that there are many African countries that are ruling justly, promoting democracy and open trade, and that's the purpose of this meeting here.

Thank you.

Q: What about the second meeting?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The second meeting also touched on many of the same themes as the bilateral meeting: trade, MCA, HIV-AIDS, conflict, and the role of the United States in supporting the region in addressing those issues. An underlying theme was that all of the leaders emphasized the importance of them taking the leadership, the self-responsibility for addressing these problems in strong partnership with the United States.

Q: Did the leaders press the President for troops? Did they put a strong case for troops?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. President Kufuor, the head of the ECOWAS, talked in general terms about the U.S. support for ECOWAS in addressing the problems in Liberia, but they didn't ask for any specific type of support.

Q: Not one of them asked for troops?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, they didn't ask for troops in that -- in that forum, in the democracy forum.

Q: What did they ask for? Just U.S. involvement?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, they understood that we're working with Kofi Annan, especially with Secretary Powell as the point person. They understand that our EUCOM teams are in-country, and so they didn't -- I don't think -- I shouldn't interpret for them, but they didn't raise any specific needs, just the need for general support, understanding that we are in bilateral discussions on this issue.

Q: If Charles Taylor has to leave before there is U.S. engagement on the ground there, how do you get around the vacuum of rebels being emboldened, perhaps moving on Monrovia? How do you get around the danger of the window, with Taylor out and there's not anyone there to keep the peace?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The President said that Charles Taylor needs to leave to return stability. He didn't link Charles Taylor's exit to any particular USG engagement. It was simply that, for the broad situation of return to stability in Liberia, Charles Taylor needs to exit.

Q: Before -- so an agreement for Taylor to leave can be worked out and the U.S. could be there before Taylor has actually left the country? That's possible?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The President didn't comment on timing of our engagement or the conditions for it.

Q: Do you just continue this at some point --

Q: Can you clarify how we are to interpret the President's remarks today? Is he -- when he said he would be involved, did he mean to signal more than what he's involved right now, with the small team of advisors? Or what does he --

MR. FLEISCHER: This is exactly what Richard Boucher, at the State Department, announced last week, which was the United States will participate -- or that was yesterday -- the United States will participate in ECOWAS. The same thing. The United States will participate in ECOWAS, participate through the United Nations. The exact form of the participation is what we are assessing.

And as for the timing of it, I think it's fair to say the President has not received the reports from the assessment team, they have more work to do. So it will not be for some time until the exact form will be known.

Q: I'm sorry, until what will be known?

MR. FLEISCHER: It will not be for some time until the exact form is known.

Q: But did the President say that U.S. troops will participate in a peacekeeping force?

MR. FLEISCHER: No. The President said the United States will participate in ECOWAS.

Q: And he also made a reference to the U.N., too.

MR. FLEISCHER: Correct. I just said that -- and the U.N., correct.

Q: But not necessarily the involvement of troops.

MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct, the President has not said what he would or would not do with troops. He's awaiting an assessment from the assessment team that will look at many areas.

Q: -- doesn't go any farther than what we've heard before.

MR. FLEISCHER: Correct. The process is underway.

Q: Are you Ari, or are you a senior background official?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm on the record. I'm always on the record.

Q: Thank you.


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