Washington DC, Abuja — IN a face-saving move and amid criticisms from Africans and Americans over his decision not to hold one-on-one meetings with presidents from Africa who will be participating in a three-day US-Africa summit this week in Washington DC, President Barack Obama has decided to slightly review the situation.
A top diplomatic source disclosed to The Guardian over the weekend that Obama has now agreed to ask his deputy Vice President Joe Biden to meet one-on-one with presidents of Nigeria, South Africa and Tunisia, just as some other African presidents, especially from North Africa are said to have opted out of participating in the US-Africa summit.
Not only is Nigeria's President on top of the three African leaders to eventually get the bilateral meeting with the US VP, White House officials hinted of a possible future one-on-one with President Obama with the Nigerian leader soon in the future.
Both the decision to finally hold official bilateral talks with Nigeria, and White House officials' indication of the possibility of a future one-on-one between Obama and the Nigerian president in the future, are believed to reflect the continuing significance and role Nigeria plays in US-Africa relations.
In all, about 50 leaders from Africa have been invited according to Ms Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US Assistant Secretary of State for Africa. While the presidents and head of state from Egypt, Morocco and Libya are not likely to attend the summit, the Assistant Secretary also confirmed the likelihood of the presidents of Liberia and Guinea being absent from the meeting due, according to her, to the outbreak of the Ebola virus in their countries.
However, due to pressure from US interest groups like the Corporate Council for Africa and some African Ambassadors like Nigeria's Envoy to the US, Professor Ade Adefuye, the government few days ago reviewed its decision not to hold bilaterals with any of the visiting presidents.
According to senior diplomatic sources, Vice President Biden would now meet President Goodluck Jonathan on Tuesday morning in his hotel and also make time to meet President Jacob Zuma of South Africa, and Tunisian Prime Minister, Mehdi Jomaa.
During a press interview with White House officials, Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Adviser and Gail Smith, Senior Director on Democracy and Development and the US Assistant Secretary of State Linda Thomas-Greenfield, The Guardian on Sunday raised the issue again asking why there would be no bilateral one-on-one meetings with top African countries
Below is the exchange that took place late Thursday:
I wanted to directly put the issue to you as to why President Obama will not be holding any one-on-one meetings with any of the leaders that are coming?
MR. RHODES: Sure, I can take that... given the fact that we have nearly 50 leaders coming, frankly, we just wouldn't be able to do bilaterals with everybody, and so the simplest thing is for the President to devote his time to engaging broadly with all the leaders. That way, we're not singling out individuals at the expense of the other leaders. So that way the President can commit his time to broad engagement.
I will say that the President will have a chance to interact individually with each leader. That's part of the purpose of having the dinner where he'll be able to personally receive each leader attending the dinner. And so he will certainly speak with and interact with every leader who is coming here to the summit. And I think that speaks to his commitment to engage Africa.
Keep in mind, too, that no U.S. President has ever done a summit like this with every African leader. I think that speaks to the deep respect he has for engaging Africa as an equal partner. Of course, he had the opportunity to meet bilaterally, for instance, with President Jonathan in the past. He will certainly be able to have bilateral meetings in the future with a range of important African leaders, including the President of Nigeria."
Authoritative sources compared the decision of the US government not to hold bilaterals with visiting African presidents as a 'respect issue," especially since similar Africa summits in China, Europe and Japan have all included one-on-one meetings with the visiting African presidents.
Already some African leaders have started to indicate their possible absence, a development that may have forced the US government to reach a face-saving review to bring in the Vice President who had not been given a formal role in the event before.
According to US sources, there are some African countries that will be represented by their Vice Presidents or Foreign Affairs Ministers.
White House and State Department officials did not have a final list, as at weekend, of the final count of how many presidents and prime ministers from Africa will personally attend the summit.
But Nigeria's Prof. Adefuye confirmed that President Jonathan would be personally attending and will be meeting with the US Vice President. Adefuye added that a significant number of US investors and businessmen would be hosting the Nigerian President to a dinner during the 3-day summit that starts tomorrow.
Explaining that this was a tremendous vote of confidence on Nigeria by the business people of America, Adefuye disclosed that the dinner organised by the Corporate Council for Africa, CCA and the US Chamber of Commerce was already over-subscribed as at last week, several days ahead of the dinner.
Meanwhile, President Jonathan will, today, (Sunday) leave for Washington DC, to participate in the three-day US-African Leaders' Summit. During the trip, which is at the invitation of President Obama, Jonathan is expected to join 50 other leaders to proffer solutions to the continent's socio-economic problems.
A statement by the Presidential spokesman, Reuben Abati in Abuja yesterday said the President would join President Obama and about 50 others for discussions that are expected to lead to greater progress in key areas such as expanding trade and investment ties, promoting inclusive sustainable development and expanding cooperation on peace and security.
"The Summit, which is the first of its kind between an American President and African heads of state and government, is expected to greatly strengthen ties between the United States, Nigeria and other African countries.
"In addition to three special sessions on "Investing in Africa's Future", "Peace and Regional Stability" and "Governing the Next Generation", the summit will also feature side-events such as the United States-Africa Business Forum which has the objectives of boosting efforts to strengthen trade and financial ties between the United States and Africa, creating partnerships that will accelerate job creation, and encouraging even more American investments in Nigeria and other African countries."
Besides, the statement noted that President Jonathan is also scheduled to hold meetings in Washington with key United States political, security and business leaders on the sidelines of the summit to discuss the further expansion of bilateral cooperation between Nigeria and the United States in other areas including the war against terrorism.
The President, according to the statement, would be accompanied on the trip to the summit by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Aminu Wali, the Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance, Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; Trade and Investment, Dr. Olusegun Aganga; Power, Prof. Chinedu Nebo and the National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd.)
He would return home at the conclusion of the summit on Wednesday.