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Leaders to eliminate high debt



Published: Wed, June 8, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The United States and Britain want to work together to help poverty-stricken African nations.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Tuesday embraced a tentative plan to forgive the debt of poor African nations "on a path to reform" but failed to come together on Blair's calls to double aid to the troubled continent and tackle global warming.

The leaders expressed confidence that the remaining details of a deal on African debt relief could be worked out among them and with the other countries attending next month's summit of major industrialized nations in Gleneagles, Scotland.

The leaders' agreement represented a milestone of sorts for the Bush-Blair relationship, in which the British leader has risked his own political standing at home to provide staunch support for U.S.-Iraq policies but not often gained reward from the White House.

Standing alongside Blair, Bush also for the first time addressed a 2002 memo to the prime minister from a top British intelligence official suggesting that the United States had bent intelligence to justify a decision to invade Iraq and sought British cooperation in doing so.

"There's nothing farther from the truth," Bush said. "Both of us didn't want to use our military. It was our last option."

Blair said, "The facts were not being fixed in any shape or form at all."

Their face-to-face talks, the first since Blair narrowly won what Bush called a "landmark victory" for a third term, touched on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iraq's halting progress toward stability and efforts to turn Iran away from nuclear weapons pursuits.

In between talks in the Oval Office and a working dinner in the White House residence, Bush and Blair made plain that Africa was their top agenda item and sought to minimize differences.

Upcoming summit

Bush aides have said the United States wants to ensure that Blair's hosting of the July summit is deemed a success. But Blair has made global warming and dramatically stepped-up aid to Africa the main topics of the meeting, and Bush has opposed most of what the British leader wants to do -- or how he wants to do it.

Hinting at the outlines of a deal in progress on debt forgiveness, each leader used language pleasing to the other.

Blair talked repeatedly about one of Bush's key goals: requiring African countries receiving help to be committed to "governance against corruption, in favor of democracy, in favor of the rule of law."

"It's not a something-for-nothing deal," Blair said.

Bush added, "Highly indebted developing countries that are on the path to reform should not be burdened by mountains of debt."

For his part, Bush gave support to Blair's desire that organizations such as the World Bank and the African Development Bank not be required to absorb the losses from the debt forgiveness and thus reduce the overall pot of money available for assisting needy countries.

"Our countries are developing a proposal for the G-8 that will eliminate 100 percent of that debt and that, by providing additional resources, will preserve the financial integrity of the World Bank and the African Development Bank," he said.

Disagreements

There was no public talk, however, of how disagreements over the financing of debt forgiveness would be resolved. The Bush administration had previously rejected Blair's proposals to raise money by selling bonds on the world's capital markets and by selling off some of the International Monetary Fund's massive gold reserves.

Bush also announced an African emergency famine relief initiative, with the United States to provide $674 million, the British to put in an unknown, but lesser, amount, and both calling on other nations to increase their contributions.

Along with debt relief, Blair wants summit participants to double current Africa aid levels.




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