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Remarks to Regional Journalists on the Margins of African Union Summit


Remarks
William J. Burns
Deputy Secretary
U.S. Mission to the African Union - via Teleconference
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
January 30, 2012

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MODERATOR: Good afternoon. I would like to welcome you to today’s briefing with Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns. Today we have participants calling from Kenya, South Africa, Senegal, Tanzania, Ghana and Angola, who are connected through the Africa Regional Media Hub. We thank you for taking the time to join us. We will start with brief remarks from Deputy Secretary Burns. Following the remarks, we will take a question from a journalist in the room and then we will open it up to questions from our callers. Callers can ask their questions by pressing star one to enter the question queue. Again, today’s event is on the record and will last approximately twenty minutes. And now I’ll turn the call over to Deputy Secretary Burns for brief remarks.

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS:  Thank you very much and good afternoon.

I am very pleased to be in Addis Ababa. My visit to Ethiopia concludes a week-long trip to Africa, which also included visits to Ghana, Uganda, and South Sudan. My trip, which comes on the heels of Secretary Clinton’s visit to West Africa last week, reaffirms the high priority the Obama Administration attaches to Africa. It highlights our ongoing commitment to work with African partners both to seize opportunities and address common challenges.

America’s commitment to the continent is underscored by our work to support gains in democratic governance, sustainable development, economic growth, and the peaceful resolution of conflict. This includes our support for democracy and governance programs across the continent, our ongoing efforts to strengthen commercial ties between the U.S. and Africa, and our steadfast support for the protection and promotion of human rights.

The United States is committed to supporting programs that both support Africa’s long-term goals and short-term needs. President Obama’s Feed the Future Initiative, to which we committed $3.5 billion over 3 years, promotes food security and helps reduce vulnerability to drought and other shocks in partnership with governments across Africa. In the near-term, we are leading international efforts to respond to drought and famine in the Horn of Africa, including by committing over $870 million in relief for the crisis. The United States also continues to provide extensive assistance to combat disease and to build the capacity of health systems across Africa, part of a $63 billion commitment over five years. On Thursday, I visited one excellent example of that effort, a public-private partnership at Wagagai in Uganda, one of more than a hundred such clinics that we support across Uganda to provide preventive care and comprehensive maternal and child health services.

Over the last week I have also had the pleasure of meeting with civil society leaders engaged in compelling and vital work in their communities. This includes meeting with a cross-section of young leaders who are engaged in dynamic work in every sector of society. As many of you already know, the Obama Administration has made a special point of engaging the continent’s next generation of leaders to discuss the broad spectrum of U.S.-African issues.

At the same time, this last week of discussions also covered a range of security, political, and humanitarian challenges facing the continent. The humanitarian situation in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile featured prominently in many of these discussions. The U.S. remains deeply concerned regarding the Government of Sudan’s continued denial of humanitarian access to those two states. Conflict and aerial bombardments have disrupted the planting season. Experts predict that, absent immediate humanitarian access, we could see emergency levels of food insecurity in a matter of weeks. The international community will not be able to stand by as this preventable humanitarian crisis unfolds.

My consultations also underscored the need for Sudan and South Sudan to quickly reach agreement on oil and related financial issues. The time has come to reach an amicable and negotiated solution. Unilateral actions on both sides only risk greater tension and further economic losses for both countries. Resolving this and other pending issues is the best path to achieve long-term peace, stability, and economic prosperity.

The challenge of Somalia came up frequently in my meetings and of course during discussions here at the African Union as well. As I said to President Museveni and others, the United States commends the work of the African Union Mission in Somalia. We hope that the African Union will continue to move quickly in finalizing a concept of operations for an expanded AMISOM so that we can discuss this issue in the UN Security Council as soon as possible. These discussions also centered on the need for the Transitional Federal Government to make steady and sustained progress on the Roadmap in advance of the end of the TFG’s mandate in August.

Additionally, various leaders expressed concern about the situation in Nigeria. Boko Haram poses a growing threat to the region. We will continue to support the Government of Nigeria on this and other challenges facing the country.

I was particularly delighted to be able to lead the U.S. delegation in attending the opening of the African Union Summit. The United States has a special relationship with this vital regional organization, including by being the first non-member state to accredit a diplomatic mission dedicated exclusively to the African Union. And last year Secretary Clinton became the first Secretary of State to address a formal session of the AU. We collaborate and partner with the African Union on a broad range of issues and will continue to assist in augmenting the AU’s capacity to address the many opportunities and challenges facing the continent.

And now I’d be glad to take some questions.

MODERATOR: Okay, we will go ahead and take a question from here in the room, and then we will turn it over to our callers. Please remember to state your name and affiliation before asking your question.

QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Haile Mulu, Reporter News paper. I am from The Reporter Newspaper. My question is can you tell me more of the issues that you raised when you met with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, and my second question, is the United States working with the African Union to promote good governance on the continent, but up to now only fifteen African countries have ratified the African Charter on Democracy. What is the reason behind that? My final question is what role will the United States play in promoting peace in South Sudan? Thank you.

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: Thank you very much for all those good questions. I had a very constructive meeting with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi yesterday. We discussed a range of issues on which the United States and Ethiopia work together to help promote regional security. We discussed also the further possibilities for economic growth and development in Ethiopia, how we can promote greater American trade and investment here. I am convinced that the opportunities are growing for American companies.

We talked about the range of issues on which we are working together to address significant problems here, and across the continent, in food insecurity and in health. I believe we are making progress on those issues. We also talked about the importance that the United States continues to attach to democratic development as a part of Ethiopia’s effort to realize the full potential of all of its citizens, the importance of building strong democratic institutions, respect for the rule of law, respect for human rights. We believe it is very important, obviously, for the African Union to promote many of these same priorities, and we are proud that we have been able, in recent years, to find practical ways, tangible ways, in which we can help augment the capacity of the AU to deal with many of these challenges. We certainly hope that AU members will renew and make clear their commitment to democratic principles such as those laid out in the Democratic Charter.

With regard to South Sudan, the United States has taken great pride in the role that we and many in the international community played in South Sudan’s independence. We continue to work in support of South Sudan’s efforts to build a sustainable economy and build democratic institutions. We recognize that these are difficult challenges, and we are increasingly concerned, as I mentioned in my opening remarks, by the differences which exist, and which seem to be sharpening, over the oil question between the government of Sudan and the government of Southern Sudan. We urge both parties, working with the AU panel, to reach the earliest possible negotiated resolution of these issues. That’s deeply in the interest of the people in both of those countries, and so we will do everything we can to help facilitate that.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much. And now I will turn the call over to my colleague at the Africa Media Hub to moderate questions from our callers. Carrie.

MODERATOR: Thank you. At this time I will ask our callers to ask a question, please press star one to enter the queue. Our first question comes from Dakar, Senegal. Please state your name and affiliation before you ask your question. Dakar, your line is open.

Question (translated): Jean Baptiste Sallie, from Radio Television Senegal. His question is Senegal-related, and he said, regarding the violence that has been in Senegal the last few days over the Constitutional Council’s decision to validate President Wade’s eligibility for a third mandate. What is the U.S. position on this matter?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: Thank you very much for your question. The United States attaches a great deal of importance to our relationship with Senegal. We certainly urge calm, and we urge that the political process be pursued in an exclusively peaceful manner. We urge all parties to avoid violence.

Second, I would say that obviously the United States respects the political and legal processes in Senegal, but I also have to add, honestly, that we are concerned that the decision by President Wade to seek a third term undermines the spirit of democracy in Senegal. We are concerned that it could jeopardize the many achievements of President Wade’s tenure in office, and that it could jeopardize the decades-long record that Senegal has built up on the continent for democracy, democratic development, and political stability. So we hope very much that the political process will be a peaceful one and that it will allow for the free and active participation of all Senegalese.

Moderator: Thank you. Our next question comes from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Please state your name and affiliation. Dar es Salaam your line is open.

QUESTION: My name is Jaffer Mjasiri with Daily News which is an English paper based in Dar es Salaam. My question is, currently you have spoken very strongly about the situation in Sudan. Do you think that military intervention will be inevitable to resolve the civil war which is going on? And my second question is, how—[pauses]—Tanzania is a strategic partner to the U.S., if so, can you shed light on this partnership?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: Sure. Thank you very much. First, on your question on our partnership with Tanzania. We attach a great deal of importance to our relationship and to our partnership. We consider Tanzania to be a model of democratic and economic development on the continent. We have tried to demonstrate our respect for what Tanzania’s leadership and its people have achieved in a number of ways.

It is important to remember that President Kikwete was the first African leader received by President Obama at the White House. It is also important to note that Tanzania is one of the four founding partners in the Partnership for Growth program which the Obama Administration has inaugurated to try to underscore the efforts of governments around the world, countries around the world, that we think offer great promise in economic development and are pursuing responsible, sensible economic growth policies so that we can bring to bear all the resources of the U.S. Government to help support them in that effort.

The Feed the Future program that I mentioned in my opening remarks is a very important feature of our partnership with Tanzania. The same is true with regard to PEPFAR and the Global Health Initiative where we have invested a considerable amount of money, well over a billion dollars, in support of Tanzania’s own efforts to deal with those kinds of health challenges. So, we consider Tanzania to be a very important partner, and we look forward to continue to deepen our cooperation in the years ahead.

With regard to your question on Sudan, it is no secret that we in the international community have deep concerns about human rights issues in Sudan, about the absence of democratic government and respect for those rights. We believe that there is no military solution to those challenges and those problems, but we emphasize our call for peaceful, non-violent efforts to resolve those kind of challenges and to build the kind of democratic future for Sudan that is deeply in the interest of the Sudanese people.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Accra, Ghana. Please state your name and affiliation before asking your question. Ghana, your line is open.

QUESTION: My name is Michael Sarpong Bruce, I work with Business and Financial Times newspaper. My question, Deputy Secretary of State, is last week you had a meeting with our president, John Atta Mills, and you disclosed the United States will be seeking further discussions on food security and health. Why food security and health?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: Well, first I enjoyed very much the opportunity to visit Accra and the very constructive discussion I had with the President. As you know, we attach a lot of importance to our partnership with Ghana. We have just about completed the first MCC [Millennium Challenge Corporation] compact program under the Millennium Challenge Account which has been quite successful in Ghana. We are looking forward to a second one.

Ghana is, like Tanzania, one of the first four countries around the world in which we are working in a Partnership for Growth. We are also proud that we have been able to support the efforts of the Ghanaian Government to make progress on food security issues and on health issues. I mentioned the importance that we attach to working on, those issues on a number of the other stops on my trip, and certainly in Ghana, I think, we have helped the Ghanaian Government make some important strides. We look forward, like Ghanaians do, to another peaceful and transparent election later this year and to finding further ways in which we can strengthen our relations.

MODERATOR: Thank you. The next question comes from Nairobi, Kenya, from Dana Hughes. Operator, can you please open the line for Nairobi, Kenya. Dana, your line is open.

QUESTION: Great. I would like to ask about the recent crackdown on journalists, both foreign and local, in Ethiopia, the recent large jail sentences given to the Swedish journalists as well as to bloggers and local journalists under Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism laws. Is that something that came up at all in your discussions with the Ethiopian Government at this forum?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: Thank you for the question. Yes, I did the raise the issue in the meeting that I had with Prime Minister Meles. I underscored America’s commitment to freedom of expression, to independent media, and the importance that freedom of expression and independent media for the democratic growth of any country. Obviously, any government has an obligation to ensure against terrorist threats, but I did express our concern that the application of anti-terrorism laws can sometimes undermine freedom of expression and independent media. So we hope very much that that range of cases that you mentioned can be carefully reviewed, and that great care can be taken in ensuring the protection of freedom of expression.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Okay, the next question comes from Jason Straziuso in Nairobi, Kenya.

QUESTION: Thank you Mister Secretary. I have two questions. You said in your opening remarks, I don’t know if I got it down exactly correct, but something about the international community will not be able to stand by as this preventable humanitarian crisis unfolds. You were talking about the issues between Sudan and South Sudan. I know that those are your prepared remarks, but can you expand on what you mean there? There is a hint of, I don’t think you mean military action, but if you could just tell us what you do mean. The second question is about Somalia. Last week the U.S. inserted itself quite forcefully to resolve a hostage situation there, but there is still one American hostage being held in the country. I wondered if you could say what the U.S. is doing to resolve that situation, and generally speaking, how does the U.S. choose when to use military force or not to use military force to resolve hostage situations? Thank you.

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: Thank you. On the first question that you asked, I think the key here is ensuring access by international humanitarian organizations in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile to avert what could be a humanitarian crisis there. That is what our focus is on right now. That is a call that has been made, not only by the United States, but by many here at the African Union Summit and many others in the international community. It is extremely important that that urgent humanitarian concern be addressed.

Second, with regard to Somalia, it is obviously an essential obligation for any government to do everything we can to protect our citizens. That is exactly what President Obama did when he ordered the successful hostage rescue operation that took place recently. That was certainly another illustration of the enormous courage and capability of the American military. We are obviously very concerned about the other hostage case that you mentioned. We are following it very closely and taking it very seriously, but I don’t really have anything to add beyond that.

MODERATOR: Thank you. We have time for one more question. That question comes from our embassy in Luanda, Angola. Please state your name and affiliation before asking your question. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Domingos Balumuka, working for the international channel of Angolan National Radio. Mister Burns, tell us a little bit about evolvement of Angola in terms of the economy, politics, and other domains after nine years of peace, just as the country is going to hold also elections this year. The second question has to do with the prevailing situation in the DRC and Guinea-Bissau, because there are some conflicts. For example, in Guinea-Bissau the country is also going to hold elections on 18 March 2012. In DRC, after their parliamentary elections, there are no results so far. There is also the coming back of some rebel groups, like Mai-Mai, and Katanga wants its independence. What is your comment about it?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: Thanks. On your first question about Angola and the Unites Stated, I had the pleasure of visiting Angola about a year-and-a-half ago, I guess, and I was struck by the economic opportunities which exist there and we will certainly do everything we can to encourage the expansion of American trade and investment which I think can be an important ingredient in Angola’s own continued economic growth. We are continuing to work together in a number of areas as well. We know Angola faces challenges in expanding and sustaining with economic growth, and fighting against corruption, and building strong democratic institutions. Those are all efforts that we are going to continue to support.

On your second question on the DRC, a number of observers, including the United States, have highlighted the serious flaws in the technical processes and the conduct of the recent election. We are not sure that those technical flaws would have changed the outcome of the election, but they certainly need to be investigated thoroughly, and certainly it seems to be in the interest of the DRC to undertake steps to ensure that they are not repeated in the future. With regards to Guinea-Bissau, we obviously support a transparent and free conduct of elections.

MODERATOR: Thank you. And that concludes today’s call. On behalf of the Africa Regional Media Hub, I would like to thank Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, and thank all of our callers for participating in today’s call. If you have any questions about today’s call, you can contact the media hub at afmediahub@state.gov. Thank you very much.



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