NEW YORK – Democrat Bill Richardson told black leaders Thursday that he would make Africa a major foreign policy priority if he's elected president in 2008.
Speaking to a meeting of the National Action Network, a civil rights organization founded by Rev. Al Sharpton, the New Mexico governor said the continent had been neglected by the Bush administration in favor of the Middle East and other regions thought to have greater strategic significance.
"Somehow it's not considered by American policymakers to have the importance it deserves," Richardson said. "Issues related to AIDS, refugees, issues related to governance, international poverty — somehow this continent is forgotten."
Richardson, a former ambassador to the United Nations, said that as president he would press to add an African nation to the U.N. Security Council. He also touted his recent efforts to help bring about a fragile cease-fire in the war-torn Darfur region of Sudan.
"Why is it that America forgets about the Rwandas and the Sudans but is quick to move into other areas that are considered more strategically important?" he asked.
With black voters a key part of the Democratic electoral base, all the major Democratic candidates were scheduled to speak to the NAN conference during its three-day annual convention.
Attendees were getting a double dose of the Clintons: President Bill Clinton was set to address the group later Thursday, and Hillary Rodham Clinton was scheduled to speak Friday afternoon.
Richardson acknowledged he was not well known to most voters, but said he felt "very good" about his campaign so far. A Hispanic American, he said he was proud to be part of a diverse field of candidates that includes a woman — Mrs. Clinton — as well as a black man, Barack Obama.
"I'm going to be, hopefully, the first Hispanic elected president," he said to applause. "If it's not me, we may have the first African-American president, or the first woman president.
"We may also have the first Mormon president," he said, referring to Republican Mitt Romney. "Although I'd prefer the other three."