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Sub Sharan African Meeting*

Sub-Saharan Africa Is Focus Of Bush's Day

By Dana Milbank
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 17, 2001; Page A04

On a day when energy policy was to dominate the debate in the capital, President Bush began by turning his energies to sub-Saharan Africa.

In the Rose Garden yesterday morning, the president spoke to a meeting of the U.S. Sub-Saharan Africa Trade and Economic Cooperation Forum, which was created under the African Growth and Opportunity Act. Bush announced that he will host an October meeting in Washington of finance and trade ministers from sub-Saharan Africa, inviting leaders from the region's 35 eligible countries to participate.

Bush, unveiling the effort to spur trade with the depressed region, was joined by luminaries that included Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill and several members of Congress. Bush couldn't resist pointing out Houston Rockets basketball great Hakeem Olajuwon.

The president was joined on stage by the ambassador from Senegal, Rep. Philip M. Crane (R-Ill.) and Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y). Rangel, a leading black lawmaker, praised Bush in unusually warm terms. While Crane spoke, Bush and Rangel had shared a whispered joke, which Rangel then related. "The president leaned over and asked me to try to be brief," Rangel said. "And I told him I wanted to laud his leadership for this area, and he said take as much time as I want."

Rangel was indeed effusive, speaking to Bush of the "depth of your commitment" to African trade ties. Bush, who received less than 10 percent of the black vote last year, has been eager to boost his standing among racial minorities.

Today's event established the Trade and Economic Cooperation Forum as required by last year's African Growth and Opportunity Act. The October meeting will concentrate on strengthening public-private relationships, supporting small businesses, meeting export standards and reforming trade policy.

"The United States wants to engage sub-Sahara African countries as valued economic partners, and we look forward to welcoming sub-Sahara African leaders as our guests next fall," Bush said.

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