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During Visit, President Bush Praises Nigeria’s Regional Leadership

Ahead of a meeting with Obasanjo, who was re-elected in April despite accusations of vote rigging, President Bush said the United States looked forward to working with the West African nation on future diplomatic and trade issues.

“We look forward to being an active trading partner with Nigeria. I appreciate your commitment to regional peace and we will work with Nigeria and ECOWAS on issues such as Liberia….” Bush told Obasanjo before a meeting in the capital city of Abuja.

ECOWAS, or the Economic Community of West African States, is a regional trade grouping.

Later, during a speech to an annual summit that focuses on African business development, the president called Nigeria a “nation of great diversity and great promise.”

Nigeria emerged from well over a decade of often brutal military dictatorship in 1999 with the civilian election of Obasanjo, a former military leader who pledged to institute full democratic reform.

On the Liberia conflict, the president reportedly told Obasanjo that he had not decided whether to send U.S. troops to aid in peacekeeping efforts, calling again for embattled Liberian leader Charles Taylor to step down.

“Our assessment teams are still in place,” Bush told reporters after his meeting with Obasanjo, according to wire services. “I told the president we would, you know, be active. The definition of that will be made known when we understand all the parameters.”

Obasanjo has offered Taylor exile in Nigeria, although the Liberian leader has insisted that he will not leave the country until peacekeepers arrive.

During his visit to Nigeria, the president, along first lady Laura Bush, visited a state-of-the-art hospital where they toured HIV units, including a U.S. funded program that works to help prevent women from passing HIV to their babies during childbirth.

Nigeria’s rate of HIV/AIDS infection is low compared to the rest of the continent, around 5 percent, although the White House says health experts fear that rate could jump to as high as 25 percent by the end of the decade.

The fight against AIDS has been a top focus of the president’s visit to Africa, including his new legislation proposal to commit some $15 billion to combat the disease. Congress has yet to approve the final funding amount.

“You are truly an international leader on this issue. The United States of America, when Congress acts, will stand side by side with leaders such as yourself to fight the pandemic of AIDS to save lives,” President Bush told Obasanjo, according to the Associate Press.

The president told Obasanjo: “I appreciate your honesty and openness and forthrightness when it comes to battling the pandemic of AIDS.”

Nigeria’s regional power stems largely from its position as one of the world’s top oil producers. U.S. companies have a significant presence in the country and about 17 percent of crude oil imported to the U.S. comes from Africa, mostly from Nigeria.

Days ahead of President Bush’s visit, Nigerian oil workers clashed with police during a weeklong general strike over the country’s rising fuel prices.

Before Nigeria, President Bush visited Senegal, South Africa, Botswana and Uganda. He departed Nigeria for Washington Saturday.

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