|George Bush, Tony Blair at White House news conference Tuesday|
President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair say they are close to a deal on debt relief for Africa. They apparently have agreed to disagree on other key aspects of an aid plan the British leader will push when he hosts the Group of Eight summit next month in Scotland
Tony Blair has made aid to Africa a priority item for the summit. He has proposed a massive assistance plan, and is urging other nations to sign on.
President Bush says he agrees on the goal of eradicating poverty. But at a joint news conference at the White House, the British and U.S. leaders made clear they still have differences on the details.
President Bush said he stands with Mr. Blair on the need for total debt cancellation for the poorest countries, combined with steps to protect international lending institutions from major losses.
“Our countries are developing a proposal for the G-8 that will eliminate a hundred percent of that debt, and by providing financial resources will preserve the financial integrity of the World Bank and the Africa Development Bank,” said Mr. Bush.
But the president also made clear he is not about to significantly increase the level of direct U.S. assistance to Africa, stressing that he has already put in place major programs to fight AIDS, promote trade, and reward poor countries that end corruption and implement reforms.
Mr. Bush, did however, announce that about $674 million worth of aid set aside to deal with potential emergency situations around the world, will go to Africa to meet urgent humanitarian needs.
“One of those emergencies is the growing hunger crisis in the Horn of Africa,” said Mr. Bush. “In response to this need, $414 million of those additional resources will be provided immediately to avert famine there.”
Left unsaid was Mr. Bush's continuing opposition to a British proposal to fund new aid programs by issuing bonds on world capital markets. In essence, poor countries would be able to borrow money in the short term based on assurances of future aid from major donors.
Speaking to reporters after their talks at the White House, Prime Minister Blair stressed the positive. He said progress is being made on debt relief, although a lot more work needs to be done on the aid package. Overall, he said, there is a real and common desire to help the African people.
“In a situation where, literally, thousands of children die from preventable disease every day, it is our duty to act and we will,” said Mr. Blair.
Another item the British hope will top the agenda for the upcoming summit of the world's wealthiest democracies is climate change. But after his talks with President Bush, Prime Minister Blair acknowledged they each endorse a different approach.
“I think everyone knows there are different perspectives on this issue,” noted Mr. Blair. “But I also think it is increasingly obvious whatever perspective people have and from whatever angle they come at this issue, there is a common commitment and desire to tackle the challenges of climate change, of energy security and energy supply.”
Other items discussed during the Bush-Blair meeting included the Middle East peace process, the war on terrorism and Iraq.
This was their first meeting since Prime Minister Blair won re-election last month, although his Labor Party emerged with a much smaller majority in parliament. One issue that had an impact on British voters was his support for the war in Iraq. A document written in 2002 surfaced in Britain during the campaign that appeared to suggest that facts were manipulated in order to make the case for war. When asked about the matter, both men vigorously denied that was the case.
President Bush said everyone wanted to resolve the dispute with Iraq peacefully.
“Both of us didn't want to use our military,” said Mr. Bush. “Nobody wants to commit military into combat. It's the last option.”
Prime Minister Blair insisted no facts were fixed in order to pave the way for an invasion of Iraq. And he noted the document was written before the United States and Britain went to the U.N. for a resolution given then Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein one last chance to comply with U.N. demands.