The White House on Thursday defended President Obama’s decision to invite to the Oval Office an African leader who is suspected of widespread corruption, arguing that Gabon has made significant reforms under President Ali Bongo Ondimba, whose tiny nation holds the presidency of the U.N. Security Council this month.
Press secretary Jay Carney also pointed out that Gabon has voted along with the United States on a range of important U.N. resolutions, ranging from the Ivory Coast and Libya to Iran.
“Look, I think that it’s a little naive to believe that the president of the United States should not meet with leaders who don’t, you know, meet all the standards we would have for perfect governance,” Mr. Carney told reporters. “This is an important relationship. Gabon has made some very significant and courageous votes in the United Nations in support of objectives that the United States has.”
Mr. Bongo has presided over the impoverished yet oil-rich nation for two years. Before that, his father ruled for 42 years.
The Bongo family owns multiple luxurious homes throughout France and elsewhere, and according to a 2010 congressional report, the regime has used U.S. financial institutions “to carry out suspicious transactions involving millions of dollars.”
Mr. Carney said Gabon has “made a number of reforms.”
“We will continue to push, as an administration, and the president himself, for further progress on these issues,” he added.