- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 21, 2001

New Syrian envoy

Syria's new ambassador to the United States will be the man who has run the Syrian Embassy for a year since the former ambassador left Washington.

Rostom Zoubi, charge d'affairs since January 2000, is being referred to as "ambassador" at the embassy, even though the appointment has not yet been announced.

Mr. Zoubi, who was in Syria yesterday, replaced Ambassador Walid Muallem, who acted as the main Syrian negotiator in peace talks with Israel.

Focus on Africa

President Bush has not yet declared a week for Africa, as he has done for education, defense and tax cuts. However, Africa is attracting attention on its own, even injecting itself into Mr. Bush's carefully planned policy photo opportunities.

At an elementary school to promote education issues earlier this month, Mr. Bush was asked when he will visit Africa.

He promised to "pay attention to Africa," although he had no travel plans to announce.

Ambassador Roble Olhaye of Djbouti, the most senior African envoy in Washington, said yesterday Mr. Bush has a great opportunity to build on the foundation laid by former President Bill Clinton, who visited Africa twice and engaged government departments in a coordinated African policy.

"This new administration is coming on the heels of a previous administration that set high priorities for Africa," Mr. Olhaye told Embassy Row. "It is very early to say much about the new administration. But we are very hopeful, very optimistic."

He noted that Secretary of State Colin Powell has said several times that Africa will be a foreign policy priority.

"He has reassured us several times in his statements," the ambassador added.

He said that Mr. Clinton reshaped the government approach to Africa by coordinating the efforts of the State, Treasury, Commerce and Transportation departments, as well as the U.S. trade representative.

Africa this week is the scene of high-level diplomatic activity as James Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank, and Horst Koehler, director of the International Monetary Fund, attend summits in Mali and Tanzania to discuss aid and investment programs.

Their visit follows the release of a World Bank report last week on the cutback in international aid to Africa.

Meanwhile, the Washington-based Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies is urging Mr. Bush to recognize that Africa is a priority for the United States because of the increasing volume of U.S. exports to Africa and growing imports of oil from Nigeria.

"U.S. trade with Africa is larger than with all the former Soviet Union countries combined," but U.S. policy toward Africa has changed little since the end of the Cold War, says a new report from the joint center.

The World Bank report noted that international aid to sub-Saharan Africa declined to $19 per person in 1998 from $32 per person in 1990, as gross domestic product fell by 0.7 percent.

"The slowdown in growth was the result of regional and civil wars, poor governance in some countries and serious external shocks such as the rapid increase in oil prices at the same time that export earnings from primary commodities collapsed," the report said.

In Africa yesterday, Mr. Wolfensohn and Mr. Koehler met 10 African leaders in Mali and plan to attend another summit tomorrow in Tanzania.

Yesterday they discussed issues including the possible write-off of foreign debt with Presidents Omar Bongo of Gabon, Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah of Sierra Leone, Alpha Oumar Konare of Mali, John Kufuor of Ghana, Antonio Mascarenhas Monteiro of Cape Verde, Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, Didier Ratsiraka of Madagascar, Mamadou Tandja of Niger and Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal.

Tomorrow Mr. Wolfensohn and Mr. Kohler plan to attend a meeting in Tanzania with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia and Presidents Isayas Afewerki of Eritrea, Frederick Chiluba of Zambia, Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania, Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, Festus Mogae of Botswana, Daniel arap Moi of Kenya, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Bakili Muluzi of Malawi and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda.

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