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U.S. Department of State

Great Seal   Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and
Nigerian Foreign Minister Sule Lamido

Press Availability
Abuja, Nigeria, October 19, 1999
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
Blue Line

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thank you for this warm welcome on my first visit to Nigeria. I never stopped hoping that during my time as Secretary of State I would be able to visit a Nigeria whole and free. And here I am.

Many Nigerians believe that "divine Providence" had a hand in all that has happened here over the last year. But when I look at what President Obasanjo and the people of Nigeria have accomplished, I am reminded that God helps those who help themselves.

President Obasanjo has begun the work of restoring democratic institutions, fighting corruption, and establishing accountability for past misdeeds. In our meeting, I welcomed the President's courage in taking steps to investigate human rights abuses, as well as dubious government contracts, under previous regimes. Establishing accountability is an important step toward reconciliation, and toward ensuring that this time, democracy has come to Nigeria to stay.

Nigeria's success is important to the United States. We are Nigeria's largest trade and investment partner, and we rely on you for eight percent of our imported oil. The ties of kinship, friendship, business and culture between our peoples have never been disrupted.

Nigeria is sub-Saharan Africa's most populous nation, and a potential engine of economic growth and keystone of peace and stability. Your rapid transition away from military rule has caught the attention of the world -- imagine how your lasting success will inspire others making the difficult transition to democracy.

I assured the President today that the United States is committed to supporting Nigeria as you solidify democratic institutions and economic reform. We will be working with our Congress to triple or quadruple our assistance next year.

That money will help fight corruption; support democratic governance at the state and national levels; and fund teacher training, HIV/AIDS prevention, and progress toward civilian oversight of the military.

We are also strengthening our economic partnership, through a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement and a new Joint Economic Partnership Committee.

Nigerians and Americans alike will benefit if we do more together to fight the international criminals and drug traffickers who tarnish Nigeria's reputation. President Obasanjo and I discussed how we can better cooperate on this important issue.

Our nations also share an interest in ending conflicts in West Africa and beyond. As the leaders of ECOMOG, Nigerians have made great sacrifices to end the fighting in Sierra Leone. And I described to the President how I had had the honor of reviewing the ECOMOG troops when I was there. The United States supports a strong Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) with expanded peacekeeping capacity. To that end, we are providing an additional $11 million in logistical assistance to ECOMOG. And we will vote this week in the United Nations Security Council to deploy UN peacekeepers to Sierra Leone, to help relieve the burden on Nigeria and its partners.

This is the third time that the President and I have met this year -- and I will see him again in Washington next week, when he comes to meet with President Clinton. I look forward to continuing our discussion on all these issues then -- and further strengthening our partnership.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, I report for Radio Nigeria. I wish to recognize that this is perhaps the highest diplomatic contact between the U.S. on the Nigerian side for over 16 years or there about. What is the specific interest that is peculiar to the United States that you raised with our President. That is one. Two, now that you are here, you are aware that developing nations have been common in the restructuring of the United Nations' Security Council. The industrialized nations seem not to be so common with moves to be sure that the Security Council is reformed. At the last United Nations' General Assembly the Nigerian President set a deadline of next year in which these reforms should be carried out. We want to take the advantage of your visit to know exactly what the United States' position is on this issue. Thank You.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: In response to your first question, let me say that as I said in my opening remarks, we have waited a long time to be able to have the appropriate relationship with a free and democratic Nigeria. While I was the Permanent Representative at the U.N., I followed very closely the developments in Nigeria and hoped very much that it would be possible for the United States and Nigeria to have and develop a relationship based on common values, democracy, the ability of your people to make decisions about their lives, human rights, the rule of law. And for the relationship that had existed previously, to be picked up in such a way to benefit not only both countries but our mutual responsibility needs to be the international system and Nigeria specifically within Africa. Africa has waited for Nigeria to be back, to be able to take its rightful place as the leader.

In my travels already, in Sierra Leone, Mali, and Guinea, it is very evident to me that Nigeria has a very important role to play within a regional frame-work. And I was delighted with the conversation that I had with the President about this because his wisdom and his understanding of what Nigeria can do and how Nigeria sees its responsibilities to the other countries is most inspiring. I am very grateful for the time we spent together discussing Nigeria's place in Africa and Nigeria's relationship with the United States.

On the issue of the United Nations Security Council. Let me say that the United States has been in the lead of those countries who believe the Security Council needs to be reformed to keep pace with the United Nations. When I was up there, it was a time when the Security Council had a great deal to do. It was very effective. It had gone into kind of a lull during the Cold War period. But, with the end of the Cold War, it was able to take its rightful place. The effectiveness of the Security Council is very important and therefore as we have talked about expanding the Security Council, and we do support expansion, we have spoken about the need for it to be effective. So, we support it. I think there are discussions about the size of the Security Council. We believe that in order for it to be effective, it cannot be overly large and that it can be expanded by having new permanent members and non-permanent members who can fulfill their proper responsibilities. I can assure you that the U.S. is behind Security Council expansion within the parameters of keeping the Council very effective.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, as you know drug trafficking through Nigeria has been a huge problem for the United States. Could you provide more details about the nature of discussions on that subject, please?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Clearly we have been very concerned about drug trafficking and the President and I did spend some time talking about the importance of cooperation in dealing with drug traffickers and on how we are going to proceed in terms of greater cooperation in that area. We expect that this is an issue that we will be able to find some very specific progress on in the near future.

QUESTION: Before the coup in Pakistan that shocked the world recently in Pakistan, there were reports that the United States had information about plans by the Pakistani Army two weeks before the coup and this information, although yet unrefuted by the American Government, the question that bothers people is that the American Government have appeared soft on the situation where a democratically elected government was overthrown and this is particularly in African countries where we have young democracies. It is causing apprehension and concern that the response is not far enough, it is not straight forward, it is some double standard. What is the United States doing to ensure that young democracies are not just swept aside as has taken place in Pakistan and what is the assurance you are giving to the world that you are solidly behind young democracies and you are not exhibiting a double standard.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thank you very much for asking that question because I think it is very important. First of all, let me say that the United States is categorically opposed to military coups of any kind that take over a democratically elected government. In response to the first part of your question, I have no information whatsoever on the fact that we knew anything of the recent plans, so that is just wrong. But, let me say this. I do not believe that you could characterize our response as soft. First of all, there is a law which makes it necessary for me to impose sanctions when a military government takes over a democratic government. I did that within, I think, 36 hours of the coup. There already have been very serious sanctions placed against Pakistan because of its nuclear explosion. We have made very clear -- our ambassador in Islamabad and I, probably the President, that we expect the Musharraf government to return to a constitutional government, that we expect civil liberties to be respected and that it is essential that the processes that allow a constitutional government to be in place should be put into place. We have made that quite clear and we do not condone military coups of any kind. And I'm glad you asked that because I think that it is very important that young democracies know that and that the U.S. has taken strong action against what has happened in Pakistan.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, the issue of democracy essentially has to be backed by issues of economic prosperity. You are visiting a nation that is indebted to the tune of about $28 billion. Have you discussed ways and means of redressing this debt burden with President Obasanjo? Could you give us some insight, if any?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Yes. Let me just say that we all understand the difficulties for a democracy (inaudible). It is clearly a burden and difficult for the people to absorb and the President and I did talk about how the debt that Nigeria has can be dealt with in terms of the possibilities of rescheduling and this is obviously a discussion that President Obasanjo will carry on when he is in Washington with the appropriate authorities. It is very important that there be an agreement with the International Monetary Fund so that whatever debt rescheduling takes place be done within that (inaudible).

QUESTION: Before you arrived in Nigeria, perhaps you planned to address the joint session of the Nigerian National Assembly. I want to know if you consider it a slight on your part for the Assembly to have turned down that request, or do you see it as a mark of a great democracy. Number two, I want you to name just one thing you as a person will do to assist the young Obasanjo administration?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I did not see that invitation. I am looking forward to speaking tomorrow and am always happy to speak wherever anyone asks me to. In terms of helping, personally, I think that I am hoping very much that the three conversations that I have already had with the President would make clear to him and therefore to the Nigerian people, the great desire of the American people to help Nigeria. As I said, we are going to try to triple or quadruple our assistance; we are going to be working in a variety of ways to help the educational system here. Help in every conceivable way so that Nigeria can, as I said, take its proper place. And, also I think, have what I think is most appropriate a relationship of mutual respect between the United States and Nigeria one of partnership and friendship. I hope very much that the great sense of warmth and friendship that I feel already for President Obasanjo is mutual.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, you said earlier that you expect to see some progress on the drug front in the near future, and I am just wondering if you could be a little bit more specific about what that progress might be and if that progress might result in the U.S. removing Nigeria from its list of drug transiting countries? Also, when you say double or triple the amount of U.S. assistance to Nigeria, what kind of figures are you talking about?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First let me say that I do not want to at this stage indicate where we are going on the decertification process. But, I think the President knows and so do the people in this Government, the importance the United States attaches to dealing with the narcotics problem. This is not an effort to single out Nigeria. This is a global effort that we are making and we consider the threat of drugs one of the basic national security threats to the United States and therefore it is very high in its priority and it is a subject that we take up with countries generally where the issues of drugs are part of the problem. My own sense in having this discussion here is that the Government of Nigeria understands the problem and wants to work on it. But I don't think that at this stage I am prepared to go into more detail on that.

In terms of numbers, it is a little hard to talk about any numbers given the President has, on my recommendation vetoed the Foreign Appropriations Bill because it is $2 billion below what we asked for and makes it impossible for us to do anything. But, as you know, I have thought some time ago after the election of President Obasanjo that we would want to see Nigeria as one of the key countries on which we should focus in terms of our assistance across the board and to choose them as a unique country because of the capabilities of the people of Nigeria that have been oppressed for so long, because of the importance of Nigeria, not just in West Africa but in Africa generally, and the promise that helping Nigeria holds out for everybody. It is a little hard for me to talk about any numbers at the moment. All I can tell you is that it is the recommendation of the State Department to increase substantially, three- or four-fold the amount of money that would be going to Nigeria.

QUESTION: For the Honorable Minister of External Affairs. What do you think of the new Nigerian-U.S. relationship?

FOREIGN MINISTER LAMIDO: (inaudible)

[End of Document]
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