8 June 2012

Liberia: President Sirleaf, in Washington, Meets Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Clinton, Millennium Challenge Corporation and Other Officials

Photo: Tami Hultman/allafrica
Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Amid meetings scheduled with United States Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, among others, on Friday, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf had another action-packed day in the United States' capital.

At these meetings with senior U.S. Government officials, the President was accompanied by Senators Isaac Nyenebo and Geraldine Doe-Sheriff, Representatives George Mulbah and Wesseh Blamo, and Liberia's Ambassador to the United States, His Excellency Jeremiah Sulunteh.

In President Sirleaf's meeting with Vice President Biden, at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, the two discussed United States-Liberia bilateral relations, and the strengthening of that relationship through the establishment of a Bi-National Commission; the drawdown of the United Nations peacekeeping force in Liberia, UNMIL, and the corresponding need to build up Liberia's security forces, particularly the Police and Immigration; the country's successes and challenges, among the latter being the need for infrastructure, especially electricity, to promote development, and to address the problem of youth unemployment.

President Sirleaf also raised issues relating to the need to restore the U.S. Administration's proposed 15 percent cut in the appropriations to Liberia; U.S. support for Liberia in its effort to achieve Compact status under the Millennium Challenge Corporation Initiative; Liberia's solidarity with other African nations fighting to preserve the third party fabric clause in the AGOA legislation.

Addressing the Liberian legislators, Vice President Biden stressed the need for the Executive and Legislative Branches of Government to work together for transparency, the fight against corruption and institution building. Also present on the U.S. side was the Administrator of USAID, Mr. Rajiv Shah, who assured President Sirleaf that his Agency would operate differently in ensuring that projects are country-led.

President Sirleaf's State Department meeting with Secretary Clinton touched on the same issues as discussed with Vice President Biden, in which she also spoke of her second-term priorities, especially making the hydro plant operational; Liberia's new three-year, medium-term budget; the proper use of Liberia's natural resources for the benefit of all Liberians; and the need to review the UN sanctions regime on Liberia regarding frozen assets and travel ban, among a range of topics.

President Sirleaf began the meeting by declaring that Liberia's laws are clear on the protection of the rights and choice of all citizens, and that those laws must be respected and implemented.

Secretary of State Clinton promised to lend U.S. support for a single coordinating partner to train the Liberian Police ahead of an UNMIL withdrawal; to support Liberia's candidature for a seat on the Human Rights Council; and to figure out how to embed the suggested Bi-National Commission in the two governments and countries. Secretary Clinton also emphasized that the United States wants to see Liberia and its people get the best deal for their natural resources, and urged Liberia to follow the examples of Botswana and Rwanda in protecting the birthright of its people.

Earlier, the Liberian President and delegation met with officials of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), for a discussion about what Liberia needs to do in order to qualify for Compact status, under which the country will receive infrastructural support. Currently, Liberia has met the requirements for inflation, gender in the economy, access to credit, health expenditures, natural resource protection, political rights, civil liberties, freedom of information, and control of corruption.

However, the country is lagging in 11 key areas: fiscal policy, regulatory quality, trade policy, land rights and access, business start-up, primary education expenditures, immunization rates, girls' primary education completion rate, child health, government effectiveness, and rule of law. It was agreed that the Government of Liberia needs to provide the relevant data so that the MCC scorecard can accurately reflects the progress Liberia is making regarding all 20 indicators. President Sirleaf assured the MCC team that Finance Minister Amara Konneh, who would be in Washington the following week, would work with them to see what more can and needs to be done so that Liberia can qualify for Compact status at the time of the next review.

President Sirleaf also met with the Assistant Secretary for International Organizations, Ms. Esther Brimmer, for a discussion about the UNMIL withdrawal; the lifting of UN sanctions on Liberia pertaining to frozen assets, the arms embargo and travel by certain Liberians; and Liberia's candidacy for a seat on the Human Rights Council. President Sirleaf called for a strengthening of the Liberia National Police and other security forces, such as Immigration, in the light of an UNMIL drawdown, over three years. She called for a review of the assets freeze, and offered to work with the Sanctions Committee concerning the delisting of certain individuals affected by the travel ban.

On Monday, June 11, the Liberian leader will take part in a Round-Table Conference of the Frontiers in Development Forum, sponsored by USAID. She will also serve as a keynote speaker in the 2012 Loret Miller Ruppe Speaker Series at the Peace Corps Headquarters.

On Tuesday, June 12, President Sirleaf will attend a luncheon in her honor at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, before departing for home, arriving there on Wednesday, June 13.

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