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US, Togo Discuss Syria, Boko Haram

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, right, meets with Togo President Faure Gnassingbe, center, and opposition leader Gilchrist Olympio at the Presidential Palace in Lome, Togo, Tuesday Jan. 17, 2012.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday discussed the deteriorating security situation in Syria and terrorist attacks in Nigeria with Togolese President Faure Gnassingbe, whose country holds a seat on the United Nations Security Council.

It was an elaborate welcome for Secretary Clinton outside Lome's presidential palace, where she met for nearly an hour with President .

A senior State Department official says they discussed a variety of issues before the U.N. Security Council including Syria, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. On Syria, Secretary Clinton expressed U.S. support for Arab League efforts to end government attacks against opponents. President Gnassingbe said he is "uncomfortable" with what is going on in Syria.

The Togolese leader reaffirmed his support for direct negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian officials, having abstained from the UNESCO vote that gave Palestinians full membership in the educational, scientific and cultural organization.

Because of Togo's former isolation from the international community under the president's father, long-time ruler Gnassingbe Eyadema, many of these international issues are new for the small West African nation.

President Gnassingbe told Secretary Clinton that Togo's isolation is over and that the country is looking to play a bigger role in the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States. He said her visit, the first ever by a U.S. secretary of state, gives them confidence that they are on the right path.

Secretary Clinton and President Gnassingbe discussed their joint concern over attacks by the Muslim fundamentalist group Boko Haram, which is targeting Christians and security forces in northern Nigeria. Boko Haram's threat to regional stability was also part of talks earlier in the day between Secretary Clinton and Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara, who is taking a more active role in the regional ECOWAS alliance.

In Togo, Clinton encouraged President Gnassingbe to continue working with political opponents on legislative reforms, fighting corruption and drug trafficking, and making it easier for foreign investors to do business.

President Gnassingbe said his government is committed to democratic reforms and strengthening human rights. He said he is working to meet standards of fiscal reform and domestic investment in health care and education that are prerequisites for assistance through the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation.

Secretary Clinton told staff at the U.S. embassy in Lome that Togo has distinguished itself in recent years by supplying hundreds of peacekeepers for missions around the world, including in Ivory Coast. She said Togo's election to the U.N. Security Council signals a “new era of global engagement and leadership” for the country.