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United States Supports Nigerian Leader

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United States Supports Nigerian Leader

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United States Supports Nigerian Leader

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Much news from and about Africa this week. Nigeria inaugurated Umaru Yar'Adua as its new president on Tuesday. Although the elections were marred by complaints of fraud, it's the first time that nation has witnessed one elected government hand over power to another. And also Tuesday, President Bush announced new sanctions against Sudan in an effort to stop the violence in Darfur.

We're joined by Jendayi Frazer, assistant secretary for African affairs at the State Department. She's also a former U.S. ambassador to South Africa. She's with us from the U.S. ambassador's residence in Abuja, Nigeria. Thanks for joining us.

Dr. JENDAYI FRAZER (Assistant Secretary, African Affairs, State Department): Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: And I take it you're in Nigeria for the inauguration?

Dr. FRAZER: Yes, I am, for the inauguration of President Yar'Adua.

MARTIN: Could you describe the importance of Nigeria both to the region and to the U.S.? I'm particularly interested in why this was of sufficient importance for you to go.

Dr. FRAZER: Well, Nigeria is a strong partner and friend to the United States. Nigeria has the most people across the continent, 150 million of the continent's 800 million. And so it's a huge country - 50 percent of them are Christian. Fifty percent of them are Muslim. So it's an important country in terms of showing that there can be greater harmony and tolerance across the faiths. Also, Nigeria is a major oil producer. It produces about 3.2 percent of the world output of petroleum and represents about 8.5 percent of U.S. imports.

And so - and finally, Nigeria is a major contributor to peacekeeping and conflict resolution on the continent, whether you're talking about Darfur or Liberia or Sierra Leone. All of these conflicts have had strong mediations by Nigeria as well as peacekeepers to help these governments' transition to democratic post-conflict countries. And so there was the report recently by the Council on Foreign Relations which says as Nigeria goes so goes Africa, and we certainly agree with that assessment.

Nigeria is a vital strategic interest to the United States, and that's why the government thought to have me come to this inauguration to continue to extend our hand of friendship while working with this new government on making sure that the election that took place - the terrible outcome in terms of the process is not repeated in four years. We went through the inaugural ceremony this afternoon and had a chance to meet with the president, the new president of Nigeria.

MARTIN: What was the atmosphere there?

Dr. FRAZER: Well, I think it was a good atmosphere. Clearly, people are, I believe, relieved to have this historic transition from one civilian president to another civilian president. At the same time, I think that there is - it was a sobering event in that the election didn't go very well and President Yar'Adua in his speech, at the very beginning, acknowledged the problems in the elections that just took place - you know, that there was rigging and fraud in that election. And so he promised in his inaugural speech to immediately look at electoral reforms so that in four years they can perhaps have a better outcome.

MARTIN: And this is interesting because, in fact, he was the chosen successor of the outgoing president, was he not?

Dr. FRAZER: Well, yes. He was certainly the candidate of the PDP Party - the People's Democratic Party. But that said, he also campaigned nationally, and so was leading in all of the polls. But because of the flawed election process, he starts, frankly, at a deficit. He might have been elected popularly, come in with a strong mandate. Instead, he is trying to regain that credibility and that legitimacy. And so he'll have to work very hard from the outset to win the people's confidence.

MARTIN: What were some of the other issues that he talked about in his inaugural address? Clearly, the issue of hostilities in the oil region is a big issue for the U.S., which is interested in seeing oil supplies unrestricted. Did he talk about this?

Dr. FRAZER: Yes. Well, he didn't in his inaugural address. His inaugural address, he focused on electoral reform. He also promised to help bring about security in the government in the Niger Delta, which is also (unintelligible) because he has eight citizens who are being held hostage in the Niger Delta today. And so that was certainly high on my priority to discuss with the new president.

He talked about bringing greater credibility and humility to governance. He expressed his desire to be the people's servant. And so I think that trying to change the political culture in Nigeria was important. But in my meeting with the president this afternoon, I, of course, also raised the issue of Darfur, offered condolences for the loss of lives of some of his soldiers, and he's -he committed to remaining very much engaged in Sudan and to bringing about peace, investing in peace across the continent. And so, certainly, the issue of Sudan will be one in which we will work very closely with this new government.

MARTIN: The new president has been described as reclusive in the news accounts of the day. Did you find him so?

Dr. FRAZER: I found him very warm. He's very soft-spoken. I - everyone positively noted that the inauguration ran on time. He's holding meetings -all of the meetings have been held exactly on the minute that they were expected to be held, and so I think everyone is looking forward to a very serious president who is very efficient in his governing style.

MARTIN: Let's talk about Sudan. This week, President Bush announced that he is imposing stiff economic sanctions against Sudan and that he is going to press the United Nations for additional action to end the violence in Darfur -violence, by the way, which he took pains to call genocide. He said that was its rightful name. Why did the president take these steps now?

Dr. FRAZER: Well, it's important because there's been repeated bombings taking place in Darfur over the month of May - repeated bombings in all three states of Darfur. And we - President Bush is certainly making this assessment on the need for greater pressure on this government to resolve the crisis in Darfur based on the actions on the ground.

When we look on the ground, we have continued bombings. We have a continued harassment of humanitarian aid workers in terms of getting assistance to the people in Darfur. The government of Sudan has rejected a U.N. peacekeeping operation, which would certainly help create more stability and bring - in the lawlessness which is taking place in Darfur. So the president is basing the extension of new sanctions on the facts on the ground.

MARTIN: China has continually opposed sanctions. Their representatives continue to say that expanding sanctions only makes the problem more difficult to resolve. What steps is the U.S. government prepared to take to bring pressure on China to support some kind of expansion of sanctions in Sudan or to bring other pressures to bear on this country?

Dr. FRAZER: Well, we're in constant dialogue with the Chinese, and we have seen the change in their stance. China, I will remind you, has never vetoed a Security Council resolution on Sudan, and so we would expect their cooperation again on the sanctions resolution. And so it's a matter of continuing to work with them, to have dialogue with them and to see the evolution of their position.

And frankly, as you bring the record to them about Sudanese action, even as it says to them in their bilateral discussions that it's prepared to accept, you know, humanitarian - you know, provide humanitarian access; it's prepared to accept a more robust African Union forces - when it acts to the contrary, when it actually bombs the site where the rebel commanders are trying to meet who are going to be part of peace negotiations, you see the actions being counter to what the government of Sudan is saying. We have to bring that record to the Chinese and show them that the government is actually putting the Chinese in a more difficult position.

MARTIN: What are the prospects for success at the U.N.? Do you think that if multilateral action is called for, if the U.S. continues to press for that, do you think that they will be successful?

Dr. FRAZER: Well, we're certainly going to work to try to make them successful. We want a strong resolution - probably in the process of negotiation, others will have input into the nature of that resolution, but we will work very hard.

We - you know, this is of high priority to President Bush, to Secretary Rice, so all of America's political capital will be brought to bear to try to get these sanctions - to get these sanctions accepted multilaterally.

The issue here is that there are those who continue to say that, well, President Bashir, there's a process of negotiation, and we need to continue the negotiation. We don't need sanctions. But you can do talking, which is negotiation, but then you have to look at what he's actually doing on the ground.

And what he's doing on the ground is continuing that same behavior that the world community has said is unacceptable. And so we need to bring concrete pressure, not just words, to try to get President Bashir and his government to act responsibly in Darfur.

MARTIN: Activists in this country have appreciated the president's rhetorical stance in regard to Darfur, but they've continued to say that the U.S. has done too little to stop the violence, to intervene in the violence. And that, I think further, we'll say that this is probably not going to be that effective. What would you say to that?

Dr. FRAZER: Well, I'd say two things to it. The United States has been a leader in terms of trying to keep world attention on Sudan and on Darfur and in providing the concrete assistance that has allowed the African Union peacekeepers to be there by building the camps for them, as well as the majority of the humanitarian assistance that's going to the people of Darfur. So we've backed our words with our actions.

Bringing more pressure to bear on the government of Sudan does require multilateral action. And I think most people would want us to continue to work through the United Nations and to work with, you know, the African Union, the European Union and others. It's very difficult to get that additional pressure if the African Union itself is acting as a shield to, you know, for the government of Sudan, or the U.N. is moving very slowly in its process.

And so we're working with implementing agencies - the A.U. and the U.N. - and we're also working with many governments, the Arab League, you know, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, China and others. And so you do, in that process, require some compromise. But we're pushing; the U.S. government is resolute in trying to bring about an end to this crisis, and we will continue to work with all of these countries and these institutions to try to bring that about.

MARTIN: Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer, thank you so much for speaking with us today.

Dr. FRAZER: Thank you very much, Michel. I appreciate it.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: Just ahead, another view on President Bush's Sudan policy from John Prendergast. He's a former Clinton administration official who says President Bush has never made Darfur a priority.

Dr. JOHN PRENDERGAST (Africa Policy Expert, International Crisis Group; Author): The sad fact is, despite the rhetoric, this is a tier-two issue. And they reserved their leverage for tier one issues like Iran and Iraq and North Korea.

MARTIN: That's coming up next on TELL ME MORE.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: I'm Michel Martin. The conversation continues on TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

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