- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 23, 2009

UNITED NATIONS | President Obama met Tuesday with two dozen African leaders who shared their concerns about struggling economies and political instability, White House officials and diplomats said.

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the president of Liberia, spoke passionately about the importance of job creation and education to her country, according to a diplomat who had been briefed on the session but spoke on the condition that he not be named.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame - whose country, like Liberia, is still recovering from a brutal civil war - asked for more investment and better trade relations with the United States, the diplomat said.

Others voiced anxiety about instability in the region.

“President Obama stressed this is not a one-time conversation, but the start of a plan,” Michelle Gavin, the top Africa official on the White House National Security Council, told reporters.She said such talks will eventually include nongovernmental organizations and other groups with Africa expertise.

However, Mr. Obama noted in his speech to the African leaders that “Africa’s future is up to Africans.” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan E. Rice, both of whom have recently visited African hot spots, also attended the luncheon at the Waldorf Astoria hotel, just a few hours after Mr. Obama delivered a well-received speech on climate change.

Mr. Obama, who is scheduled on Wednesday to make his first speech at the U.N. General Assembly - an annual opportunity for world leaders to brainstorm about global problems - also met U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the new president of the general assembly, Ali Abdussalam Treki of Libya.

With Mr. Treki, Mr. Obama discussed in general terms how to maintain peace and security in Africa. Mr. Obama spoke about the need for cooperation to stabilize Darfur, the war-torn region of western Sudan, according to a summary released by Mr. Treki’s office.

Diplomats and U.N. officials said the two men likely also discussed the International Criminal Court, which has indicted Sudanese President Omar Bashir for crimes against humanity in Darfur.

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