Secretary of State Colin Powell is rejecting suggestions that President Bush's absence from the Earth Summit in South Africa reflects disinterest in the problems of Africa and the developing world. Mr. Powell goes to Johannesburg next week to head the U.S. summit delegation, and then goes on to Angola and Gabon.
The trip beginning Monday will be Mr. Powell's second visit to sub-Saharan Africa since taking office, and he says he is eager to rebut criticism in Johannesburg that the Bush administration lacks a commitment to solving the problems of poverty and environmental destruction in the developing world.
The secretary spoke in a VOA interview while U.S. delegates at the summit were unveiling a series of public-private partnerships aimed at increasing access to electricity and clean water, reducing hunger, saving natural resources and combating the AIDS pandemic.
U.S. officials in Johannesburg said the value of the initiatives could exceed $3.5 billion and come in addition to a $5 billion increase the Bush administration is seeking in overseas development aid.
Mr. Powell said President Bush, criticized for not joining other leaders at the summit, is already laying plans for an Africa tour early next year, and that his actions are hardly those of someone disinterested in the developing world.
"These are the acts of a president who is committed, these are the acts of a president who wants to help Africa and other areas of the world where there are people in need," he said. "As you will have seen from the work of the summit Johannesburg, we have created partnerships. And we have made a commitment with respect to the Congo Basin Initiative, the preservation of forests, with respect to how to get clean water to people, more clean water. And so the United States is committed, President Bush is committed. And you will see that commitment when he does visit Africa in early 2003."
Mr. Powell, who is to deliver the United States' main policy speech at the summit next Tuesday, will go on to Angola for a visit intended to underline U.S. support for the peace process that has taken hold in the country this year after almost three decades of civil conflict.
In his comments here, Mr. Powell called Angola a country in the midst of a "fundamental change." He noted the United States is part of the joint commission that is helping the Luanda government reintegrate former UNITA guerrillas into society, and to promote reconciliation among the ex-combatants.
"Being in that part of southern Africa, it seemed the appropriate thing for me to do is to go and visit with President Dos Santos, visit with the other members of the joint commission and to lend my support to this reconciliation effort, and to get a better sense of what Angola now needs to rebuild its society," he said. "And hopefully to find a way forward that can take advantage of the riches available to it in the form of petroleum reserves, and now use those riches to benefit all the people of Angola as they reconstruct their nation and their society."
Mr. Powell will be only the second U.S. secretary of state to visit Angola, the first being the Clinton administration's Warren Christopher who stopped there as part of an African tour in 1996. In addition to meeting with President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, Mr. Powell will visit a camp housing some of the estimated four million people displaced by the civil war.
The secretary said his Gabon visit, the last stop on a trip spanning six days, will stress the administration's commitment to its Congo Basin Forest Partnership, a four-year $53-million initiative announced Thursday in Johannesburg.
In addition to Gabon, the project involves Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea and the Republic of Congo.
The plan would promote forest management and the creation of national parks and protected areas and would be supported by U.S. funds, along with matching contributions from the host governments, environmental organizations and from the G-8 industrial nations and European Union countries.
Gabon's President Omar Bongo, with whom Mr. Powell will meet in Libreville, has committed to setting aside 10 per cent of the country's land area to a network of parks and reservations.