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Gates Says He and Bono Discussed Africa Policy and AFRICOM


U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says he discussed U.S. military policy toward Africa with Irish rock star Bono during a short meeting at his Pentagon office earlier this week. The secretary provided some details of the meeting during a news conference Thursday and VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

Besides gaining worldwide fame as the lead singer of the rock group U2, Bono has become prominent as an activist for humanitarian causes, particularly in Africa. His fame and activism have gained him entrée to the offices of many world leaders, including President Bush.

So during a visit to Washington this week, Bono asked to see Secretary Gates, and the secretary says he carried with him concerns expressed by some humanitarian organizations about the creation of a new U.S. military command for Africa.

"He clearly was interested in Africa and AFRICOM," said Robert Gates. "He did share some of the concerns he has heard. We gave him some information on AFRICOM and he was not hostile to it. I would say that he was open-minded about it and he just recommended that we take care in how we proceed."

AFRICOM was created last year and will reach full operations by October. It is designed to focus more high-level attention on U.S. military training programs in Africa, and military support for U.S. government humanitarian and development efforts. But some aid groups are concerned that the command will lead to the militarization of U.S. policy toward the continent.

U.S. officials say that will not happen. And Secretary Gates says during their meeting Bono referred to a speech he gave in November that called for an increase in U.S. government civilian engagement overseas.

"To be honest about it, he had read my speech at Kansas State [University] and had liked a lot what I said about lso strengthening the non-military side of the U.S. face abroad," he said.

In that speech, Secretary Gates called for "a dramatic increase" in U.S. government spending on "the civilian instruments of national security," which he defined as "diplomacy, strategic communications, foreign assistance, civic action and economic reconstruction and development."

The unusual image of a U.S. defense secretary meeting with a rock star, and having a serious policy discussion, received worldwide attention. Secretary Gates said he was "impressed" with Bono, and called him "a very serious guy" who was "very well informed." But although he is a former university president, the 63-year-old defense secretary admitted he is not familiar with Bono's musical career.

"First of all, I have to tell you, it's a matter of age that I thought U2 was an airplane," said Gates.

The U2 is an American high-altitude spy plane, which was particularly prominent during the Cold War, including the time when Secretary Gates was the director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

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