Bush Maintains Opposition to Doubling Aid for Africa


By Elizabeth Becker and David E. Sanger

New York Times
June 2, 2005

President Bush refused on Wednesday to budge on his administration's opposition to doubling aid for Africa, a major proposal on the agenda for a summit meeting of industrial nations next month in Scotland.

The long-simmering dispute could culminate next week when Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, who has advocated the plan, visits Washington in advance of the July session, a meeting of the Group of 8. As host of the meeting, Mr. Blair set the agenda, and he argued during his successful campaign for a third term in office that the world's richest nations had to make a $25 billion increase in support for Africa. But Mr. Bush has been cool to the idea from the start and has resisted making new aid commitments. Asked Wednesday about the issue, Mr. Bush said, "It doesn't fit our budgetary process." Meeting the South African president, Thabo Mbeki, in the Oval Office on Wednesday morning, Mr. Bush also renewed his administration's declaration, first made by Colin L. Powell when he was secretary of state, that genocide was taking place in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Mr. Bush has said almost nothing about Darfur this year, and several human rights groups have criticized him for paying too little attention to the issue. But on Wednesday he noted that the deputy secretary of state, Robert B. Zoellick, was on his way to the region for his second trip. Congress recently approved $50 million in additional aid for refugees in Sudan, and the United States has committed to providing transportation for Rwandan troops who are going into the area as part of an African Union force that is expected to number about 7,700 troops.

If the word "genocide" was on Mr. Bush's mind, it may be because he had dinner on Tuesday at Mr. Powell's home in Virginia. But Mr. Mbeki sat in silence when Mr. Bush used the term, refusing to declare that the Sudanese government was responsible for the killings in the region. "It might be fine for some in the United States to make all kinds of statements," he said later. "If you denounce Sudan as genocidal, what next? Don't you have to arrest the president? The solution doesn't lie in making radical solutions - not for us in Africa."

While the Darfur crisis, along with the problem of AIDS, has dominated the administration's debate about assistance for Africa, Mr. Blair's call for a vast increase in the amount spent to fight poverty has created considerable tension between Washington and Britain. In March, Mr. Blair called on rich nations to double aid to Africa while challenging African nations to end the corrupt practices that have undercut so much aid in the past. Pointing to the poverty in Africa and the deaths of millions of children there each year, Mr. Blair called improving the continent "the fundamental moral challenge of our time."

But he has run into opposition in Germany and Italy, which are both Group of 8 members. Mr. Bush's opposition, if it holds, could doom the effort at the meeting in Scotland. Mr. Bush has his own agenda for the session, including nuclear proliferation and the situation in Iraq.

In an interview, Mr. Mbeki said his meeting with Mr. Bush had been part of a two-week campaign to speak with the leaders of the eight industrial countries about Mr. Blair's initiative, and to forge a consensus on how to help Africa. South Africa is the only African nation that will attend the annual summit meeting. "President Bush responded extremely positively to all of the suggestions for the meeting," he said, though he stopped short of saying that Mr. Bush had made any new commitments.

Mr. Mbeki is seeking more development help for Africa, a reduction in agriculture subsidies that compete with African exports and relief of the debt of the poorest countries. He urged the wealthier nations to choose their own ways to help and noted that the European Union was considering imposing a new tax to finance the program. "I am absolutely certain President Bush is willing to commit whatever is required," he said.

But in the United States, such a tax would be antithetical to Mr. Bush's philosophy, and a tax aimed at foreign assistance is most likely to run into considerable resistance within Mr. Bush's own party.

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