Washington, DC — Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika discussed his talks with US President George Bush at a press conference Friday. Foremost among the issues raised, he said, is bilateral cooperation in the culural, the military and, especially, the economic sphere. Bouteflika called on the US private sector to invest more in the Algerian economy. In recent years, US oil companies have invested more than three billion dollars in Algerian oil and are expected to invest an additional similar amount by 2005.
Bouteflika also called for more US financial help elsewhere on the continent. He lauded George Bush's decision to allocate $200 million to fight AIDS in Africa but also emphasised that Africans expect more from the Bush admistration. "At next month's G8 summit in Italy," he said," I expect the United States to defend the African position on relieving the continent's debt and developping its economy." This position, contained in a joint initiative by Senegal and South Africa, was officially approved at an African summit in Lusaka earlier this week.
At a Carnegie Endowment reception later on Friday, Bouteflika elaborated further on the issue of African unity. Algeria and Nigeria had originally supported a development plan proposed by President Thabo Mbeki and known as the Millenium Africa Plan (MAP). This spurred speculation about an emerging Algiers-Abuja-Pretoria axis. Bouteflika dismissed such speculation, saying talk of an axis was not only from a by-gone era but also a dangerous idea. "An axis means an alliance against somebody, whereas all African states are working for the common good of the continent."
On the transition of the OAU to the African Union (AU) last week, Bouteflika described the step as a "historic decision". He said the fact that the project was promoted by Libya's Muammar Al-Gaddafi should not be cause for concern. "The African Union is not meant to target this or that country". However, Bouteflika said Africans should not emulate the United States of America by "creating a United States of Africa. That would be moving too fast too soon."
One of the issues hotly debated at the Lusaka summit and raised by Bouteflika Friday is the dispute over whether Western Sahara will be independent or ruled by Morocco. A recent proposal by the UN Special Envoy to Western Sahara, James Baker, called for replacing a long-awaited UN referendum on the future of the territory with a plan that would give the Western Saharans a limited degree of autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty. Bouteflika said he opposes the plan "because it tries to circumvent the issue of self-determination for Western Saharans." He said Algeria will attend the next round of the Houston talks between Morocco and the Polisario but will not be directly involved the negotiations.
Bouteflika's visit to Washington has been overshadowed by Algerian domestic politics. Since late April, there have been a series of massive and violent demonstrations calling for more rights for the country's Berber populations and for more democracy. The government has recently slapped a ban on all demonstrations in the capital Algiers. Bouteflika, who has been criticised for his handling of the unrest, defended his position. He warned that a minority cannot be allowed to dictate to the majority, adding that "it is erroneous to see events in Algeria as a conflict between Arabs and Berbers. We are one nation that is muslim, Arab and Berber all at the same time". Bouteflika, who goes home Saturday, pledged the Algerian constitution will be amended to reflect the country's mixed identity.