- The Washington Times - Friday, July 11, 2003

GABORONE, Botswana — President Bush yesterday toured the world’s most AIDS-ravaged nation, vowing to help fight the disease even as his administration acknowledged cuts in funding.

“People are dying in record numbers because of HIV/AIDS,” the president said during a joint press conference with Botswanan President Festus Mogae. “We cry for the orphan. We care for the mom who is alone. We are concerned about the plight and therefore will respond as generously as we can.”

At Mr. Bush’s request, Congress has passed an authorization for $15 billion to combat AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean over a five-year period.

However, the money has not been appropriated and Congress moved yesterday to sharply cut the first-year allocation from $3 billion to no more than $2 billion.

“I would, of course, have preferred full funding of the president’s request,” Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said.

“We will make the best use of the money that Congress has provided to us,” he added. “And I’ll wait and see the completed action and see how this ultimately emerges from the Congress.”

Rep. Jim Kolbe, Arizona Republican and chairman of the House subcommittee in charge of foreign aid, said Congress will live up to its pledge to spend $15 billion over five years, the Associated Press reported. But Mr. Kolbe said that spending $3 billion in the first year is unrealistic when the program is just starting.

Mr. Mogae praised the president for already sending millions of dollars to fight AIDS, which afflicts 38 percent of Botswanans ages 15 to 49.

“We are the country in southern Africa that is most seriously affected by HIV/AIDS and we are receiving generous assistance from the United States government,” Mr. Mogae said. “The assistance and cooperation we have received clearly demonstrates that in the United States, Botswana has a true and dependable partner.”

Mr. Bush vowed to keep the AIDS funds flowing.

“My country is acting to help all of Africa in turning the tide against AIDS,” he said. “This is the deadliest enemy Africa has ever faced, and you will not face this enemy alone.”

Although the $15 billion AIDS commitment dwarfs the $300 million committed by President Clinton, who visited Botswana in 1998, some Democrats have complained that Mr. Bush’s visit to Africa this week is little more than a photo opportunity.

Mr. Powell rejected that characterization.

“We’re not here for style, we’re here for substance,” he said. “And I think the substance of this trip will compare to any previous trip by any former president.”

It was a clear reference to Mr. Clinton, the only other U.S. president to make a major tour of Africa.

“We are not just here for show,” Mr. Powell said. “Somebody asked me earlier: ‘Is this a PR exercise?’ Not in the slightest.

“This is a trip the president has been wanting to take for a long time, would have taken earlier this year if it had not been for the situation in Iraq,” he added. “He is here for substance, and I think that is demonstrable.”

Mr. Powell also rejected suggestions by the press that the trip was aimed at winning the political support of American blacks, who voted against Mr. Bush by a 9-1 margin in the 2000 election.

“The purpose of the trip was not a political exercise,” Mr. Powell said.

He emphasized that Mr. Bush is executing a foreign policy agenda that is much broader than Africa. Within that framework, Mr. Powell had no compunction about his boss winning political points.

“I hope that next year the American people will recognize that, admire it, appreciate it and respond accordingly,” he said.

Mr. Powell also revealed that U.S. assessment teams were nearly finished sizing up Liberia as a site for U.S. troop deployment. Responding to questions from The Washington Times, Mr. Powell said the president will discuss the situation in Liberia with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the White House on Monday.

“Monday will be a good chance for the secretary-general and the president to really review where we are with respect to Liberia,” Mr. Powell said.

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