On-the-Record Conference Call on the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit
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ON-THE-RECORD CONFERENCE CALL BY DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS BEN RHODES; ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR AFRICAN AFFAIRS
**Please see below for a clarification marked with an asterisk.
MS. MEEHAN: Hi, everybody. This is Bernadette at the
Our three senior administration officials are:
And with that, I will turn it over to
First of all, the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit is truly an historic opportunity for
This is by far the largest engagement by any American President with
We've just concluded a very successful three days with 500 Mandela Washington Fellows from our Young African Leaders Initiative. The President, the First Lady,
We chose to do this summit to send a very clear signal that we are elevating our engagement with
The theme of the summit is "Investing in the Next Generation." And I think that's a symbol of the forward-looking and future-oriented nature of our engagement with
One of the things that we thought about as we prepared the summit is what does
Now, these initiatives are making substantial progress. Power
We also are very focused on trade and investment. And the summit will include a
At the same time, there remains a significant amount of security challenges on the continent, and so we'll be talking about how we can work to build African capacity to counter transnational threats like terrorism, but also to support African peace and security operations in different parts of the continent. And of course, we're committed to supporting strong democratic institutions in
So with that, let me go through the schedule and make a few comments on why we structured the summit as we have.
First of all, tomorrow, there will be an event called
Then, on Monday, there's a series of events that get at different aspects of our agenda with
Then there will be an all-day
Then there will be several events focused on different parts of our agenda, including investing in women and peace -- investing in women for peace and prosperity, given our focus on supporting gender equality in
There will be an event on investing in health. And the global health program that we have continues to be our largest development program in
There will be an event on resilience and food security in a changing climate. And we have done a significant amount under this administration to ensure that as we pursue development programs we are factoring in climate resilience. And a key part of our international climate agenda is supporting developing countries as they aim to skip the dirtier phases of development so that the world can meet ambitious emissions reductions targets.
There will be an event on combatting wildlife trafficking. And the administration recently released a landmark strategy on working with Africans to combat the scourge of wildlife trafficking, which denies a critical natural resource of the world but also a critical tourism resource within
Then, there will also be a congressional reception for the African leaders on Monday evening.
Then, Tuesday is the
Just to step back here, part of what
Then, that night, Tuesday night, the President and Mrs. Obama will host here at the
On Wednesday, the summit sessions themselves will take place at the
And these three different sessions will allow us to build on the discussions of the previous two days to focus on issues like how we're supporting development on areas like food, health and power that have been priorities for us, but also the continued growth and economic development of
The President will then, at the conclusion of the summit, have a press conference. I'd also note that the First Lady will be hosting a spousal program along with
So we're very excited about this opportunity. We believe it can be a game-changer in the U.S.-
With that, Linda, why don't you provide some perspective from State, and then Gayle can close us out before questions.
MS. THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Okay. I'll be brief. But what I'd like to talk about is the engagement that we've had with African governments on putting together this fantastic agenda. We started engaging about eight months ago, working with ambassadors here in
I also want to note -- Ben didn't mention that we have about 80 unofficial side events that have developed as a result of the summit. The summit has really galvanized the African community around
So I will end there and turn it over to Gayle.
MS. SMITH: Hi, everybody. And I'll be brief, I'll just add a couple of things. I think a few things that are unique about this summit have to do with both the style and the frame. Ben laid out the sequence of events. The YALI Summit has been this week; we have the faith event tomorrow.
It will also be informal. There are an awful lot of summits that are comprised by a huge number of speeches and a great deal of formality. This summit will be one where there will be an active exchange of views, and this is something -- again, it's not the usual case. I think the Assistant Secretary described our consultation process. We have had a lot of positive feedback from leaders directly that they are looking forward to being able to have the opportunity to talk with the President and each other in a way that it is less rather than more formal.
We're focused on outcomes that are tangible. In other words, this is not the culmination of anything. This is a very big step in the long evolution of our
If I can just flag a few things that I think may be of interest to many of you covering this that stand out I think in ways consistent with the kind of broad principles that Ben laid out. On the Monday when there will be a great focus on development, the changes we have seen in
Food security, which Ben mentioned --
African leaders agreed some years ago to increase their investments in agriculture, that every country should have a plan. They have since, in the last couple of months, committed themselves to tripling agricultural trade, further reducing hunger. This is an area where we have been hugely successful but in large measure because we've got a huge number of leaders putting skin in the game.
We've also seen that with Power Africa, which launched only a year ago, which has gotten enormous traction. We will have some things to say about how far that has come and where it is going. So those are just a couple of things on the Monday.
On the Tuesday at the business forum, I think by virtue of the fact of who is in attendance, what kinds of things will be announced, and the general buzz around it, I think there is now a solid recognition that what we are talking about is a very fast-growing and dynamic emerging market where we have mutual interests in increasing U.S. investment. There will also be significantly there a number of prominent African CEOs. Among the business leaders in attendance, we will have a huge diversity of companies from very large and well-known companies to a lot of smaller companies. And, again, both American and international, but also significantly African corporate leaders.
So I think -- I would say we'll leave it at that, Ben, and turn it back to you. We've spoken a lot and maybe take your questions.
Q Hi there, thanks so much for doing this call. I wanted to begin by asking you about the competition for U.S. investment in
All of those principals have made recent trips to
And then there are some very specific things that we're focused on. AGOA is one -- as we seek a renewal of AGOA heading into next year. But also, we've sought to support the greater integration of trade within
That will be good for them because they can create more integrated economic arrangements, but it will also be good for us because that will then make it easier for us to harmonize our trade and investment across different parts of the African continent.
So when you look at this agenda, it's really about how do we use the remarkable growth in parts of
I don't know, Gayle, if you want to add anything to that.
MS. SMITH: I think just one example I would point to is Power Africa, because one of the challenges in
Through Power Africa, what we have been able to do is provide a menu of things that can render those projects bankable. So we're working with governments to improve their regulatory environment, or provide risk insurance to companies that want to go in but there is still a high perception of risk.
So at the same time, we are bringing capital to investments in power and energy, including U.S. capital, but we're also building the capacity of these countries to grow economies that are sustainable and deliver. And I think that's one of the big shifts. We're interested in the investment, but we're also interested in building the capacity, even as we move more closely into this emerging market.
Q Do you have a count now on how many countries will be participating in the official events? And for those countries whose Presidents cannot attend, what level of representation is allowed, I guess is the question -- vice president, ministerial -- for the dinner and for the Wednesday session, Presidents at the
MS. THOMAS-GREENFIELD: All 50 of the delegations that were invited are attending, not all at the level of the Presidents. Those in which Presidents are unable to attend for various reasons have designated either Vice Presidents or Prime Ministers, and in a few cases foreign ministers have accepted on their behalf and they will be allowed to participate in the summit deliberations.
Q Hi, I just want to ask this question specifically to the National Security Advisor. I heard you guys talk about peace and security, and then I also heard you guys talk about security within the African continent. Now, we have seen the development of
Because already small countries like The
When the President at West Point announced a new focus on building a network of counterterrorism partners, he was very specific to say that this would come from
That's the type of example that we want to build on, where you have regional partners bringing these resources to bear, with the support of
So I think this context will be a part of the peace and security discussion, just as we'll also be discussing the issues related to peacekeeping and some of the challenges that you see in places like the
I'd just note -- because you mentioned
But I don't know if, Linda or Gayle, do you have anything you'd want to add to that?
MS. THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I would just add that this was an issue that was brought to our attention by African leaders almost to a number that they are equally concerned about the rise in terrorism across the continent, that they see a nexus between activities in different regions, and that they want to build their capacity to respond, they want to be able to share information and cooperate with each other to address those issues. So we will spend quite a bit of time discussing those issues and looking at how we move together in the future to address terrorism.
MS. SMITH: I'd just add one small thing to this in terms of some of what we've heard from the leaders in consultation. Terrorism obviously a big concern to them, but also a host of other transnational threats. And many of these come down to the same vulnerabilities in terms of security, borders, information, so on and so forth.
So, in addition, the drug trade, trafficking, so on and so forth, are also on their minds. I think the only thing I would add in terms of how we might approach it is how do we think about this, again, systematically, strategically, and in a sustainable way, so we get back to that core issue of building their capacity and supporting their efforts to address these challenges on the ground.
Q Hi, this is
MS. THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You want to take that, Gayle?
MS. SMITH: Let me take a first cut, Linda, and turn to you. Obviously, this has been a great concern. We have been engaged with and in the region in working on this issue since March, when the first cases appeared. Obviously, there has been a decline in a couple of countries so that there's greater attention on it. We are closely engaged with the leaders and the governments of the three countries most affected. The Assistant Secretary may want to say more on that.
We're doing several things. One is ramping up our efforts to support a regional effort to deal with this outbreak and support, again, three governments who are doing a lot of things to contend with a real threat. Mind you, these are countries that have emerged -- particularly
And, Linda, let me turn to you if you'd like to add anything.
MS. SMITH: Yes. I would just add I've been in conversation with all three heads of state in the region over the past two days to, one, confirm to them that we want to support their efforts and to commend them for their leadership and offer our condolences for the deaths of their citizens, but at the same time, to find out from them what additional assistance we might provide. We've provided a range of support and assistance to respond to the outbreak, we've provided personal protective equipment, essential supplies, public health messaging efforts, and a great deal of technical expertise.
You may have heard CDC today describing some of the activities that we are providing. We did hear from both President Sirleaf and President Koroma that because of their involvement and engagement in the crisis in their countries, that they were reconsidering whether they should come to the summit. And while we would be terribly disappointed not to have them here, we also understand the importance of them being in their countries and showing leadership at this critical time.
Q Thank you very much. I just have two quick questions. Number one, I wanted to directly put the issue of why (inaudible)
I will say that the President will have a chance to interact individually with each leader. That's part of the purpose of having the dinner where he'll be able to personally receive each leader attending the dinner. And so he will certainly speak with and interact with every leader who is coming here to the summit. And I think that speaks to his commitment to engage
Keep in mind, too, that no U.S. President has ever done a summit like this with every African leader. I think that speaks to the deep respect he has for engaging
On your second question, we will certainly -- as we get the list finalized in terms of African attendees -- that is the type of thing that will be available. We can't provide it now. As Linda noted, of course, for instance, there have been changes in two of the countries affected by the Ebola virus, but as we get the list finalized we will be able to make that available for people.
Q Thank you for doing the call. Let me try again as a variation of a previous question. Weren't you disappointed, though, because a lot of leaders from
With respect to the North African countries, we, frankly, have an opportunity to engage on a bilateral basis very regularly with a number of those countries. So, for instance, if you look at a country like
I would actually, frankly, note that we're very pleased to have the opportunity to receive a Libyan delegation. In the context of the recent drawdown of our embassy operations, it's important for us to find ways to be able to engage Libyan leaders and, in addition to our diplomats who are staying in the region in
So we'll have that opportunity to engage those who attend from
Q On the issue of security, I was just wondering, since
Look, we are concerned about efforts by terrorist groups to gain a foothold in
And what we're doing is several things. On the specific question you ask about are we concerned about people traveling to
So that's one instance in which we are working not just to deal with the threat of terrorism in
On extradition, that has not been a -- I wouldn't term that as a focal point beyond the Gitmo piece. So if that's -- to take that as a specific jumping-off point, we have transferred some detainees to North African countries, for instance.
When we transfer detainees from Gitmo to any country, we do a review to assure that our national security interests can be protected in the context of that transfer. We consult with the government that is going to be receiving those individuals. So that would certainly be the case in a situation like
But that's a very narrow part of our counterterrorism agenda. The bigger part of our agenda is to work with African countries to build their counterterrorism capabilities, to find where
But then we're looking at how do we get at the broader issue of countering violent extremism in
So it's a multi-dimensional approach, but it's one that's focused on building African capacity and supporting it with unique American capabilities.
I think we've got time for one more question.
Q Hi there, thanks for briefing. I've got two questions. First one is on who is coming and who is not coming. What is the actual diplomatic process by which certain heads of state don't get invited or don't show? I'm thinking about Mugabe and al-Bashir. And if some are excluded, how come
MS. THOMAS-GREENFIELD: And then I would just add to that the lack of cooperation with the ICC.
So these are individual leaders who are either not in good standing with the AU or are specifically designated for U.S. sanctions who would not be invited.
Now, President Kenyatta, of course we've expressed some concerns around the ICC.
But Gayle or Linda may want to address both those questions.
MS. THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I think you covered it all.
MS. SMITH: And just the one thing I would add on your second question -- yes, we think the summit will provide a number of opportunities to work on some of the cases of chronic conflict or some of the challenges on the continent. We'll be able to speak to some of those as the week unfolds next week, but certainly on issues like
Well, thanks, everybody, for getting on the call. I think we'll wrap it up there. And we'll be able to be in touch on these issues going forward.
MS. MEEHAN: Thanks, everyone, and just a reminder that this call was on the record. Thanks very much.
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