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US Concludes Major Aid Deal With Mali

The United States and Mali concluded a $461 million aid agreement Monday providing U.S. funding for a huge irrigation project and an upgrade of the North African country's international airport. The deal is part of the Bush administration's Millennium Challenge aid program.

The agreement is one of the largest concluded thus far under the Millennium Challenge program, which ties U.S. aid to commitments by recipient countries to fight corruption and foster democracy and good governance.

At the State Department signing ceremony attended by Mali's President Amadou Toumani Toure, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the deal strengthens bilateral ties while demonstrating the Bush administration's commitment to a new approach to foreign aid that empowers countries to take an active role in their own development:

"The compact that we sign today with Mali embodies our concept of transformational diplomacy and our commitment to democracy and development," said Condoleezza Rice. "Rather than doing for others, we are helping others to do for themselves. Rather than paternalism, we are building a partnership, a partnership to reduce poverty and to achieve sustainable economic growth."

Rice said the Millennium Challenge program rewards governments committed to ruling justly and advancing the economic freedom of their people, and she paid tribute to President Toure as a regional leader known for his fundamental commitment to democracy.

President Toure, for his part, said Mali is grateful for decades of conventional U.S. developmental aid and the contributions of Peace Corps volunteers over the years since his country's independence in 1960.

He welcomed the Millennium Challenge program as a "new vision" in foreign assistance in which the decisions in allocating resources are made by the recipients, not the donor:

"As you all know, developing countries have suffered from the burden of foreign debt for a very long time," said Amadou Toumani Toure. "And sometimes debt resources were borrowed to finance projects chosen by the donors and whose impact on the economic development of the beneficiary countries was oftentimes disastrous. This is why I believe that the Millennium Challenge Account is a good example of innovative financing."

The bulk of the five-year U.S. assistance package will go to finance a massive irrigation and infrastructure project in Mali's Niger River basin, designed to raise income and improve land tenure security in an area dominated by subsistence farming.

The rest, more than $180 million, will be used to expand the passenger and freight capacity of the Bamako international airport, a key lifeline of the landlocked country, and to build an industrial park nearby.

In all, the Millennium Challenge program, administered by a semi-private corporation, has now signed aid agreements worth more $2.5 billion.

The grants are limited to lower-income nations. Other recipients thus far include Armenia, Benin, Cape Verde, Georgia, Ghana, Honduras, Madagascar, Nicaragua and Vanuatu.