July 7: President Bush's Five-Nation African Tour

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This is a partial transcript of Special Report with Brit Hume, July 7, that has been edited for clarity. Click here to order the complete transcript.

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BRIAN WILSON, GUEST HOST: By this time tomorrow, President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell will have met with leaders in the African nation of Senegal and settled for the night in South Africa. And on the first day of a five-country continental tour. They will then visit Botswana, Uganda and Nigeria to talk trades, AIDS, and security.

So why is the president visiting these countries? How will President Bush be received in a country like South Africa, which was an outspoken critic against war against Iraq?

Here to help us sort out the president's African tour is Charles Cobb, a senior reporter with AllAfrica.com.

Now, you had the opportunity recently to sit down and ask a few questions of the president about this tour. What was your impression? Was he excited about this trip?

CHARLES COBB, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT, ALLAFRICA.COM.: I think so. And he has two purposes; it seemed to me for this trip. One is to emphasize, if you will, that the United States has humanitarian concerns that belong to the issues of poverty and underdevelopment in Africa. And his second point, as he articulated to us, is as practical matter, this has to do with trade and investment, Africa matters.

WILSON: There is, though, this one cloud hanging over the entire trip and that is what's going on in Liberia right now. Do you think he will be talking about that on this trip?

COBB: That almost certainly will be on the table; I think, tomorrow or Tuesday as he sits down not only with the President Wad of Senegal, but seven or eight other leader from the West African region, presidents and head of state.

WILSON: Are the folks in Africa anxious to have the United States step in here?

COBB: Yes. ECOWAS, which is the major regional organization on West African states, has been quite emphatic. Not only do they want United States troop, they asked specifically for 2,000 U.S. troops and pledged 3,000 of their own troops. But they also asked the United States to lead the whole military group, including their troops.

WILSON: So this will be received well if it indeed goes forward?

COBB: I should think so. That's the way it sounds.

WILSON: And the initial steps are so far being received well.

COBB: Yes.

WILSON: All right. Now you say there are two things he wants to talk about. First of all, is trade and humanitarian concerns first and then trade second. What are the humanitarian concerns? Obviously there is a huge problem in the continent of Africa with AIDS, HIV.

COBB: That's right at the top of the agenda. And if you look at the countries he is going to, particularly Botswana, Uganda and South Africa, those are some of most affected countries in Africa. Both Botswana and Uganda are admired by the president for their efforts against AIDS.

South Africa is particular concern because it arguably is the No. 1 trading partner of the United States in Africa and after Botswana, the most affected country in terms of AIDS. And Uganda, which I didn't say, is really the model that President Bush has been holding up as a way to tackle HIV-AIDS in Africa effectively.

WILSON: But usually when you see a president go on a trip to any foreign country or continent, he has an agenda of things he wants to get across. What are the main points that he wants to get across to the people of Africa?

COBB: As I said, on AIDS, the humanitarian issue, it's that you can solve the problem.

WILSON: But doesn't he want something a little different from each one of these countries?

COBB: Oh, yes. In West Africa, I would argue the security concerns are paramount. This is the area that probably within the next decade will be providing the United States with roughly 20 percent of its oil.

WILSON: Pretty significant.

COBB: And stability in the region is critical. And those will be at the heart of his sessions with the Nigerian president when he meets with him.

WILSON: Stop there a minute because you know, the United States has always been interested in trying to develop new sources of oil because some of the other sources we have are not too reliable sometimes. And to have that happen, the U.S. oil companies want to see more stability in the region?

COBB: No question.

WILSON: And they don't have that now?

COBB: They have a certain degree of stability. What they're worried about -- here two things converge. I mean the kind of civil instability that we've seen really in Liberia. Which is really spread throughout the region, which is related to domestic issues.

And then another kind of instability, which this administration tracks to terrorism. They're concerned that, specifically, that Islamic terrorism will be disruptive to economic interests and particularly oil interests in West Africa.

WILSON: In South Africa, he is not expected to get as warm a reception, mainly because there was this difference of opinion on how Iraq should be handled.

COBB: The reception will almost certainly be courteous in South Africa. And it may be the only place this occurs, he will also be greeted by actual street protests. I don't think President Mbeki is going to block street protests, which I know are in the works in South Africa. And those street protests are largely centered on Iraq.

WILSON: Are we talking about big protests? Are we talking about just symbolic protests?

COBB: It is not clear. These groups, they say they're talk about putting thousands of people in the street. We'll see in a day or so whether that's true or not. And certainly in terms of the relationships between the United States and South Africa, Iraq has been the biggest strain on what up until Iraq had been a fairly close and friendly relationship with regular calls going back and forth between Mbeki and President Bush.

WILSON: Some talk that the United States would like to have a military base on the continent of Africa.

COBB: More than one. There is a discussion going on right now and it's in several different places, in the Pentagon and NATO about extending NATO's sphere of operation firstly, down the west and east coast of Africa. And there is some talk within the Pentagon of the need to have rapid response bases in West and East Africa. It's not clear how that's going to come out.

WILSON: And we just have a second or two left. The President has had a change of heart about Africa, has he not?

COBB: It's quite remarkable. Three years ago when he was campaigning, he basically said this is not of any strategic importance, the continent.

WILSON: And now, he's over there.

COBB: Now, it's a complete turnaround it seems.

WILSON: Charles Cobb, thank you very much, appreciate it.

COBB: Thank you.

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