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 Home > News & Policies > February 2008

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
February 19, 2008

Press Gaggle by Dana Perino
Aboard Air Force One
En route Accra, Ghana

4:49 P.M. (Local)

MS. PERINO: We are on our way to Ghana. The President had a very good day in Kigali. One thing to note, just now he spent about an hour with Sir Bob Geldof, who has been asked by Time Magazine and, I understand, maybe a couple of other publications, to write about the President's trip. So he got to visit with the President this evening on that.

Tomorrow in Ghana, we have a meeting with the President of Ghana, the expanded meeting -- that will include staff -- there will be a joint press availability. You all are really getting a lot of press availabilities. (Laughter.) Then the United States Embassy greeting. He will have lunch with Peace Corps volunteers, something he's been wanting to do; he really has been touched by the work that they have done and some of the people he's met so far on this trip. He will get a briefing on the USAID West Africa trade hub. Then he will go to the tee-ball game. And then a State Dinner with the President of Ghana and Mrs. Kufuor.

Q Before we get into other things, about tomorrow -- what's the mission, what's the theme of tomorrow's day in Ghana?

MS. PERINO: We're going to continue to talk about malaria, obviously, and HIV/AIDS, PEPFAR and trying to support people who -- support the government, who is trying to help their people make sure that they can lead healthy lives.

And then, of course, with the trade aspect of it, we'll continue to talk about the need for responsible, sustainable development on the continent of Africa and, in particular, in Ghana. And then remember, of course, we've got the special guest tomorrow night of the American Idol contestant -- finalist from two years ago, Melinda -- I'm sorry, Jordin Sparks, the 2007 winner; she is the winner, Jordin Sparks was the winner of the 2007 American Idol and she's going to sing tomorrow night at the Ghana event. She's been very supportive of American Idol programs, America Gives Back, where they focus on malaria. So that will be part of the entertainment tomorrow night.

Q Are you saying anything about Pakistan?

MS. PERINO: A little bit. Obviously, we are continuing to wait for final returns. We realize that the ruling party has conceded in the election. We had several interests going into this election that we've talked about. One is that we've long advocated for President Musharraf to oversee elections that could give people confidence in their government. He was in a position to do that. And we asked him to try to get the country back on the road to democracy and it appears that he has done that with these elections.

We need to give the process a little bit of time to work, since we don't have the final returns yet. However, we hope that the new government, once it's formed -- whatever form that process takes -- at the end of the day that we hope that they continue to help work with us as partners in counterterrorism. The threat from extremists is just as grave and very immediate for the people of Pakistan, as evidenced by some of the violence there recently. And at the same time, we are going to continue to support the people of Pakistan through the aid that we are providing, which includes education support, reconstruction, the promotion and development of civil societies as they go through this transition period of a new government.

Q Does the White House believe that the elections were free and fair?

MS. PERINO: I think that what we can say is that they seem to have been largely fair and that people were able to express themselves, and that they can have confidence in their vote.

And as I said, Musharraf's party -- President Musharraf's party has conceded that they lost seats in that election. And I think now the next step on the path to democracy is establishing what that new government will look like.

Q And what does the White House think that this does in terms of President Musharraf's standing? Obviously, he's considered an ally to President Bush. This election is seen as having weakened his clout. Does the White House see it the way?

MS. PERINO: Well, we'll have to see. You know, in democracies you have situations sometimes where your party loses in the Parliament or in the Congress, as President Bush knows very well, since in 2006 the Republicans lost a majority in the House and the Senate. And we've continued to work as a strong, functioning government -- well, "functioning" might be a little strong. (Laughter.) But all kidding aside, we continue to function as a government. And I think a country like Pakistan can get there.

I think what President Musharraf has shown is an ability to provide for the country a chance to be confident in their government and confident in their democracy enough that they can go ahead and concede that they have lost seats, but continue to work together for the good of the country.

Q Anything new on Cuba? Have you been in touch with folks back home?

MS. PERINO: No, I don't have anything new and I have not heard anything new since we've been on the plane, beyond what the President said today. But we'll keep you updated on it.

Q Also, is a transcript from the interview going to put out -- with Geldof?

MS. PERINO: No, on the one-on-one interviews, those are usually held back.

Q Were you in there?

MS. PERINO: I was not, but Ed Gillespie was.

Q I'm just curious about AFRICOM -- how much discussion has there been in meetings so far in the two stops about AFRICOM?

MS. PERINO: About the headquarters?

Q About the headquarters. And also curious, is AFRICOM a response, sort of, to China's investment in Africa?

MS. PERINO: No, I would point you back to when the President first announced AFRICOM -- which I think was the State of the Union in 2007, I believe that was it -- and there's a variety of interest. As the President has said at almost every stop when he's talked to the press is that it's in our interests to be involved in Africa from a variety of standpoints. First and foremost, from a humanitarian standpoint -- when you have a country that was ravaged by HIV/AIDS and at risk of losing an entire generation of people; and then on to malaria, where you can see somewhere in Zanzibar what American investment can do.

So part of what the President has done on this trip is encourage the governments who have worked in partnership with us in order to help their own people. And then from a trade perspective, an economic perspective, there's a lot to be done, as we've all seen. And responsible trade deals like what the President and President Kagame signed today in Rwanda can help make sure that people have hope and have jobs so that they can be lifted out of poverty.

And from a political standpoint we also have a responsibility to help civil societies. And one of the things that Secretary Rice did yesterday when she talked to President Kibaki and to Mr. Odinga about the situation in Kenya is that they need to be supported -- they need to look to their civil societies, and civil societies should raise up and make sure that their voices are heard.

And then from a military perspective we have an interest in making sure that we are involved to help prevent extremists from taking hold in some of these places where hopelessness could take root. And that's where we know that extremists feed into -- when they have a hopeless societies.

And so AFRICOM is a much more comprehensive concept. So it's taking a little while to get it underway and get all the details worked out. It has come up in meetings. I wouldn't say that it was a main focus of the meetings, but I think that the leaders that the President has met with have been very supportive of the idea.

Q -- any progress on where that would be?

MS. PERINO: There's been no discussion of it, no.

Q There's been confusion on the African continent in terms of the aims of the AFRICOM headquarters and what the United States might intend for the --

MS. PERINO: -- in any of my meetings, and I've been in the expanded meetings, but since I see that there's interest in it, let me take it back and see if I can find out of there's anything more. But for the meetings I've been in, I think people -- leaders here in Africa understand that it's a -- they're supportive of the idea; they'd like to see where we go from here. But it doesn't seem like there's a sense of urgency on their behalf, or concern about it.

Q There was someone actually who as -- I'm sorry, I've forgotten his name; I'll find it -- who was attached to -- at the AFRICOM operation as it exists today, who said -- I believe yesterday -- that he felt as if there had been some confusion on the continent. I believe the line was something along the lines of they felt as if we were trying to invade. Did you see that on the wires?

MS. PERINO: No. I saw one report where someone said the President was trying to militarize Africa, and surely that's not the case. As I just explained, AFRICOM is quite a comprehensive subject. But let me take it back, though, and I'll see if the President, in his private meetings, has heard anything, any concern about AFRICOM. You might hear more about it when we get to Ghana. I know the Liberians have been actively lobbying for the headquarters to be in their country, but there's been no decision on it.

Q Thanks, Dana.

END 4:59 P.M. (Local)