Bush Hopes Afr. Trip Improves U.S. Image
WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush said Thursday he hopes his trip to Africa next week will improve a U.S. image tarnished by the Iraq war and will heighten Americans’ awareness of the HIV/AIDS toll abroad.
Bush said the Iraq war caused some people in Africa and elsewhere to question America’s commitment to peace.
``There was kind of an attachment to the word ‘America’ with war,″ Bush said in an interview with African journalists.
``If there’s a constant effort to describe America as a noncaring country, then people are going to have a bad attitude about us,″ Bush said. ``I think people, when they know the facts, will say, ’Well, this is a great country.‴
Bush said he will carry a message of compassion when he leaves Monday for Senegal, South Africa, Botswana, Uganda and Nigeria.
``We care deeply about the plight of the African citizen,″ Bush said. ``When this nation sees suffering we will not turn away. There is tremendous suffering on the continent of Africa. ... When we see starvation, we don’t turn our back, we act.″
Bush has proposed a five-year, $15 billion initiative to help combat and treat AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean.
By promoting the proposal in Africa, Bush said he also hoped to boost awareness of the disease in America.
``It’s important for our fellow citizens to realize that while we live a relatively luxurious life throughout our society, there’s a pandemic that’s destroying a lot of people, ruining families,″ Bush said. ``I’m going to use this trip to say, ’Here’s an example of what’s possible, and let’s make sure we follow our hearts as a society.‴
Bush said he plans to open his third trip to Africa _ his first as president _ with a speech in Senegal on Tuesday on race and slavery. He will also meet with President Abdoulaye Wade and visit Goree Island, a former slave barracks off the coast of West Africa.
``Europeans and Africans came to this country together, Africans in chains. Slavery was, of course, America’s birth defect,″ said Bush’s national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, who is black. ``We’ve been trying to deal with the consequences ever since, and to bring about reconciliation.″
Bush spends two nights in South Africa, meeting on Wednesday with President Thabo Mbeki.
Thursday, Bush will meet in Botswana with President Festus Mogae and visit a Southern Africa Global Competitiveness Trade Hub exhibit, where he will meet with women entrepreneurs. He will also visit a nature preserve.
On Friday, Bush and his wife depart for Entebbe, Uganda, to meet with President Yoweri Museveni and to visit an AIDS clinic.
Saturday, in Abuja, Nigeria, Bush attends a briefing on HIV-AIDS programs and meets with mothers involved in mother-to-child transmission prevention programs that the United States funds. He also meets with President Olusegun Obasanjo before returning to Washington.
In his session with African reporters, the president was flanked by Rice and by Jendayi E. Frazer, her deputy for African affairs.
Bush discussed an array of African issues, from politics in Zimbabwe to labor strikes in Nigeria.
``If I have to, I’ll make my own bed in the hotel, but I’m going,″ Bush said when asked whether the strikes would affect his plans.
Bush dismissed a question about whether an American thirst for African oil drove his interest in the continent.
``Conspiracy theories abound everywhere,″ Bush said. ``That’s one of the most amazing conspiracies I’ve heard. ... We’ve been thinking about Africa since I was sworn in.″